July 27, 2012, 5:12 PM

eBay goes for Olympic gold

Its iPad app lets consumers watching the Olympics buy products the athletes are wearing. 

Lead Photo

Few consumers have the skill—or the money—to enjoy an intimate Olympic experience. But for those who can only watch the ongoing London summer Games from their couches, recliners and beds, eBay Inc. has updated its iPad app to enable consumers to buy products associated with the global sporting and marketing event.

The Watch with eBay service, which launched in November, enables consumers with the tablet computers from Apple Inc. to see products related to the TV program they’re watching. The update, which launched this week as the British capital swelled with athletes, corporate executives, dignitaries and fans, enables consumers to buy such products as the same types of shoes worn by sprinters, or posters featuring Olympics participants such as the U.S. swimming team.

Here’s how Watch with eBay, which functions as a button within the online marketplace’s iPad app, works:  A consumer enters her ZIP code and television service provider within the app, then taps the Watch with eBay button and tells the app what program she is watching in one of several ways: entering the program’s title, channel number or a short description of the show. What eBay does is use keywords associated with both a show and eBay listings, producing product matches. Consumers can sort those results.

Mobile devices, in fact, should play a strong role in Olympic e-commerce over the next two weeks or so, says Dan Butler, vice president, merchandising and retail operations for the National Retail Federation, a trade group for bricks-and-mortar and web-only retailers.

Butler—who says he was living in Atlanta when it hosted the 1996 Summer Olympics Games in Atlanta, and that he recruited volunteers for it—says that while spectators are going to be busy watching events and rushing between hotels and venues, they likely will spend much of their downtime checking e-mails and otherwise engaged with their mobile phones and tablets. Once the London Games gain steam, stars begin to emerge, the media sets themes—and there are usually hot, often quirky products that many consumers will buy online. In the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, that product was red mittens with the Canadian maple leaf symbol on one side, and the Olympic rings on the other, he says. “There will be a have-to-have item,” he says. Today, in fact, a pair of those youth-sized mittens were selling for $79 on Amazon.com.

Meanwhile, Google Inc.-owned YouTube today said today that will live stream the Olympics in high definition, via the NBC Olympics YouTube channel.  Previously, YouTube showed clips of the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, and offered archived content from the 2010 Winter Games.

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