Yesterday Steve Yankovich, vice president of mobile for eBay Motors, walked me through a demo of the eBay dedicated automotive iPhone app. The company is releasing a handful of vertical apps designed to engage the user, encourage frequent shopping, and increase sales. The eBay Motors app for iPhone is expected to be released in March or April, and Android and iPad apps are also in the works.
The app contains all the typical search features you'd find on the site, enabling users to search for specific vehicles by make, model, and year, and filter based on color, condition, price range, and location. What's different is that it's not just a shopping tool; the app is designed to emulate a magazinelike effect and draw users, especially automotive enthusiasts, even when they're not shopping for cars.
Each time the app is launched, users will see a gallery of cars newly added to eBay that users can quickly flip through on their phones. It's kind of the the same effect as leafing through the pages of AutoTrader, enabling the viewers to scan dozens of vehicles at a time. But the gallery can also be tailored to the users' preferences.
The app lets people add vehicles they own or want to own to a virtual garage. If they add cars to the garage, model-specific vehicles, parts, and accessories will be showcased in the gallery, creating the effect of an online store custom designed for one vehicle. Eventually the app will be able to market products to you based on information about you and your vehicle. For example, the app may highlight snow tires during the winter if the app knows the phone owner lives on the East Coast.
"It's like an auto parts store purely for your make, model, and year," Yankovich says.
There are sharing features that let you post cars you find in the app on social media sites or e-mail them to friends. The app also includes tools to make shopping for vehicles in person a little easier, such as the VIN search. Users can manually enter or scan a VIN, and the app will bring up details on the vehicle, including a link to a free AutoCheck report on the car's history. Over time, eBay will introduce new features, such as vehicle maintenance and record-keeping tools.
But an eBay Motors-specific app for mobile phones begs the question: are people really going to shop for cars on their phones? They already do. The retailer sold 12,606 cars in 2010, and generated almost $200 million in cars, trucks, parts, and accessories. Of course, many of the sales are started on the computer by users who use the app to complete the bidding process.
The upcoming app won't change the existing car-buying process much. Yankovich says consumers will still conduct preliminary research on their computers, but the app will make it easier for users to shop for vehicles once they know the make and model they want.
But it's also designed to appeal to automotive enthusiasts and hobbyists who enjoy researching cars. The other goal of the app is to entice potential shoppers to use the app even when they don't have a specific product in mind. The more time users spend on eBay, even on their phones, the more likely they will shop with them in the future, says Yankovich.