How mobile and digital are opening doors to retail stores: The view from eBay

Devin Wenig, president of eBay Marketplaces—one of the world’s largest online markets—explains the impact of digitization on traditional retailers, bricks-and-mortar stores, the shopping experience, as well as the use of data to meet customers’ needs. 

Omni everything

“In the last two years … technology has deconstructed the retail industry.”

I just think we’ve hit an inflection point where technology is now so pervasive and so useful that we’re past the tipping point. And the worlds of e-commerce and commerce are now just seamlessly merged, and everything is omnichannel. It’s not about the phone or the desktop or the store—it’s about all of those. I think the last two years in particular have been extraordinary in the sense that technology has deconstructed the retail industry.

I think e-commerce for many years was an interesting trend, but it was on the side, largely, of what was happening in retail. Today we don’t even know what e-commerce means. They’ve just come together, the on- and the offline. Now, every merchant, every retailer must have an omnichannel strategy or they won’t survive. That’s very different than even just 24 months ago.

Future of the store

“Every merchant, every retailer, must have an omnichannel strategy or they won’t survive.”

I should say the death of the store has been greatly exaggerated. There will be a transformation of retail real estate, but not an end to it. You could step back and connect dots and say, “The world’s going to have e-commerce only” and that “stores are dead,” but we don’t see that future at all—in part because I don’t think consumers want that future. I think people like to shop and they like the serendipity of stores. Shopping is as much about entertainment and engagement as it is about utility.

I think stores are going to become as much distribution and fulfillment centers as they are full-fledged shopping experiences. I think that stores and malls are going to be highly technology enabled. Think of today—the square footage in a store needs to attract people in the door, it needs to have the right inventory at the right time, and it needs to have high service levels. That’s a very expensive model, and it’s a very inefficient model.

What e-commerce has shown is that, particularly down the tail, it’s a much better business model to be just in time. I think that there’s a pattern in there for the way stores will transform. They’ll become technology enabled so that you can go to a store and see enough inventory, but you may shop “shoppable windows.” We’re building those right now for retailers around the world.

You may end up hollowing out the real estate, where the showroom is a much smaller part of the footprint, and the inventory and the distribution center become more of that footprint. That uses the phone, and it creates local commerce economies.