Douglas MacMillan and Joseph Galante
25 Jun 2010
Tim L. Fields bids for jewelry, art, and antiques on eBay, sometimes in 30 to 40 auctions at a time. The New Orleans attorney spends hours in court and away from his PC, so he gets his shopping done using an eBay application on his iPhone that sends alerts when he's been outbid or when a sale is a bout to expire. "It's sort of an addiction," says Fields, who has used the eBay mobile app to buy a $15,000 set of antique French silver.
After losing ground to Amazon.com for years in online retailing, eBay has emerged as a leader in a new market: mobile commerce. As consumers increasingly shop with their BlackBerrys, iPhones, and handsets powered by Google's Android software, such as the Motorola Droid, eBay has become the top mobile retailer in the U.S., say analysts.
Consumers are even buying cars with their eBay apps: The most expensive example this year is a used Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder that went for $139,000. In 2010, the San Jose company expects to move $1.5 billion worth of goods through its mobile apps—more than double last year's $600 million. Tablet computers, too, are moving the merchandise: Users of eBay's app on Apple's iPad spend three or four times as much money in a typical session than they would on an iPhone, says Steve Yankovich, eBay's vice-president for mobile.
While mobile is still a small part of eBay's $8.7 billion in total revenue, it's a booming market. By 2015, mobile commerce will grow into a $119 billion global industry, up from $18.3 billion last year, according to analyst Mark Beccue of ABI Research.
It's also a fragmented market. About 3.3 percent of it has been claimed by eBay, with Amazon—which has $275 million in global sales volume—accounting for 1.5 percent, Beccue says. The worldwide mobile leader, which handled an estimated $800 million of merchandise in 2009, is Taobao, a unit of Chinese Web giant Alibaba Group. (Neither Amazon nor Alibaba disclose revenues from mobile.) "The companies that drove e-commerce from the early days of the Internet are now taking the lead when it comes to mobile commerce," says Michael Gartenberg, analyst of digital media at Altimeter Group.