November 3, 2011, 8:44 AM

eBay embraces the iPad

The online marketplace is testing a version of eBay.com dedicated to the tablet computer from Apple. By the end of the year, eBay hopes to automatically redirect consumers using iPads to the tablet-optimized site. EBay plans to accommodate more types of tablets next year.

Bill Siwicki

Managing Editor, Mobile Commerce

Lead Photo

The tablet site’s home page

Owners of iPads  who visit touch.eBay.com/tablet will get a sneak preview of one of the biggest design changes eBay Inc. has ever undertaken. It’s an e-commerce site designed exclusively for iPad users, focused on large imagery, a preponderance of imagery, and touch-oriented interaction. The site is in beta testing mode presently, but is fully operational and can handle purchases.

EBay plans to leave beta and go live with the site by year’s end. Then, when a consumer on an iPad types in eBay.com, he will be automatically redirected to the tablet-optimized site. EBay will make the site accommodate more brands of tablets next year.

EBay began developing the tablet site as soon as it discovered that a large percentage of consumers on tablets hitting the eBay.com home page were abandoning the site.

“What they see is a zoomed-out version fitted on that smaller screen. All the text is very small and hard to click,” says Steve Yankovich, vice president of platform business solutions and mobile at eBay. “If you want to interact with the site you have to pinch and zoom. That’s friction for people. So they recognize right away that it is not optimized, mostly from the view appearing to be zoomed-out and everything being really small.”

EBay used as its guiding design principle the way in which most tablet owners use their devices—reclining at home. Industry research and eBay customer research shows that tablet owners most often use their devices at home, in the evenings, reclining in a chair or laying on a couch. The tablet is displacing the desktop computer and the laptop as the machine of choice for Internet browsing at home.

“The vast majority of tablet owners are using the tablets in a lean-back mode in a more relaxed position and at a time of day when they are doing shopping more as an entertainment,” Yankovich says. “People were expecting the experience to be optimized for touchscreen so they can interact with it casually.”

The tablet site’s home page (see picture above) offers category navigation by images that a shopper touches. EBay has made imagery a top priority as it says tablet users enjoy a highly visual experience; most mobile design experts agree. A place where images shine is in search results. Results can be listed in three ways, one of which is by image. In this set-up, only images are shown—no title, description or price. And images are tiled right up against one another, making for a vast visual display.

Search results also offer what is known as infinite scrolling. Rather than return a set number of products on a page and potentially several pages of results, the eBay tablet site lists results, which on eBay can be in the hundreds or even thousands, in one continuous stream up and down the screen. This way, shoppers don’t have to go from page to page to see search results; they can just keep swiping downward to see more products.

“When you see ‘63 pages of search results,’ you psychologically think, ‘I’m not going to go through 63 pages.’ But if you’re just scrolling without end you don’t need to go from page to page through results,” Yankovich says. “And it helps you make a decision between two things in a way you could not do before. Maybe I want to compare items on different pages of search results; that’s not easy. But with infinite scrolling I can see the items on the same screen at the same time. It’s a more pleasing and natural way to move through a large set of results.”

When eBay officially launches the tablet-optimized site later this year, it will do so in stages. Yankovich says it first will send a set percentage of tablet visitors to the tablet version, and then ramp that percentage up over time as it learns how customers are taking to the new site.

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