Shopping titan eBay is betting its bottom dollar on mobile.
The company, whose various shopping apps have been downloaded more than 260 million times, announced Thursday the upcoming launch of a new mobile advertising program slated to open for general business next quarter.
eBay will now offer what Stephen Howard-Sarin, eBay’s head of North America display advertising, refers to as “native ads on eBay mobile apps.” According to Howard-Sarin, eBay did about $20 billion in mobile transactions last year, and 40% of the company’s total business “involved a mobile device at some point.”
“The nut of this is that we’ve got complete cross-device fidelity,” he said.
Howard-Sarin put eBay in the same class as “a handful of other companies,” like Facebook, that “have knowledge of user identity on devices at scale.”
“We have known registered user IDs and they’re logged in with the same ID across devices,” Howard-Sarin said. “Marketers want ads targeted to the right person at the right time and we can do that because we know who the person is, and we don’t need a cookie to figure that out.”
That’s certainly a core competitive advantage in a world where walled gardens are becoming the norm. Facebook, Verizon and, ostensibly, Google are all going for the same thing.
The program will officially launch with a direct sales model, but Howard-Sarin said eBay expects to “roll out programmatic functionality in 2015.” Ad partners will have a choice on how they want to place their buys.
“It’s starting in Q4 with traditional ad sales, except it’s powered by the kind of data that you’re used to seeing in the audience targeted programmatic world,” Howard-Sarin said. “We’re steering into a world where ad buys are programmatic or direct or guaranteed programmatic, and it’s all inherently cross-device.”
eBay could be a very attractive play for advertisers looking to tap into its rich, engaged user base. According to the company, the average user spends in the neighborhood of 150 minutes inside its apps per months. About 4.6 million people use an eBay app to shop daily.
“It’s totally deterministic. We know who you are and we know your address,” said Howard-Sarin. “But that information is very protected. We control people’s PII fiercely.”
(Despite this fierce control, there was a data breach back in May.)
As Howard-Sarin put it, eBay’s “depth of usage” is the result of a strong user experience that “feeds the data flywheel.”
“The more shopping people do, the more data they generate, which in turn creates a more personalized experience on the site, which allows advertisers to provide better advertising, and that feeds more engagement,” he said. “And then the same thing happens again.”
The advertisements will be placed by Triad Retail Media, a shopper marketing agency, whose other clients include Walmart and P&G. Triad’s been working with eBay for the last three and a half years as the equivalent of its “outsourced ad sales department,” said Triad CRO Brian Quinn.
Triad handles eBay’s ad ops, billing, sales and marketing, and 15 Triad employees work on site with Howard-Sarin’s team at eBay’s headquarters in San Jose. “If you go on ebay.com now and see an ad, our team was in charge of selling it,” Quinn said.
eBay has already tested the program with a short list of brands culled from its top 20 desktop advertisers, including Geico, which will be among the first to place advertisements within the app. eBay’s planning to roll out the opportunity to everyone else next month.
Although eBay plans to go programmatic with its mobile ad sales by next year, it doesn’t intend to eschew the more personal touch of the direct sales model.
“We’ll sit down with clients and talk to brands about which way they want to buy on the platform,” said Quinn, who noted that the whole Triad sales team was recently trained on how to sell programmatically. “This is where the people come into it. Programmatic doesn’t have to equal machine.”
Part of eBay’s data promise is in its ability to display shopping intent, which might require a bit more finessing of segments to get just right.
“Sometimes that’s going to be a direct fit, like selling cat food to someone buying things for a cat or insurance to people buying a car, but sometimes it’s going to be a richer or broader conversation,” said Howard-Sarin. “We try to capture shopping behavior that indicates lifestyle, mindset or time of life and that’s more interesting. A lot of brand advertisers know who that user is instinctively, but they don’t know how to translate that into 150,000 data variables of users.”
As for reporting, advertisers will get all the same kind of delivery data they’d see from a traditional ad buy, including summary reporting on behavior, user quality and reach. More premium partners, like Geico, will see enhanced reporting on user behavior.
But eBay knows the value of its data, and, at least for now, data ownership stays with eBay.
“Typically, we know more about users than the advertisers do,” Howard-Sarin said. “And we’re not going to let that data out of the building.”