eBay – Skype Synergy – Is There a Viral Opportunity? Post 1 of 2

Ever since eBay’s acquisition of Skype sixteen months ago, speculation has abounded on why the acquisition and, more importantly, what synergies exist for integrating eBay, (PayPal) and Skype. While we have seen stabs at eBay “SkypeMe” buttons for premium auctions and a PayPal button in the Skype Outlook Toolbar, nothing has really taken hold virally with eBay users. In fact, Ken Camp has taken issue with eBay’s entire Skype strategy, stating that Skype has become just another phone company, questioning the entire deal. On the other hand I am seeing the number of Users Online, Skype’s most telling statistic, increase — to the point where this morning (EST) over 8.8 million users were online. (We should have some further guidance on North American usage from eBay’s quarterly report due out this afternoon.)

At Skype’s CES press conference, in response to my question about building North American awareness for Skype, Don Albert, Skype’s North American General Manager, responded to the effect that Skype North America would largely be relying on “viral” activity to build out awareness:

  • Will enough users tell their friends about a service that provides toll-free North American long distance for $14.95 ($29.95 effective next Thursday, Feb. 1) per year — not month?
  • Does Skype have any strategy for building usage amongst its North American eBay and/or PayPal user base?
  • I do see that X10, infamous for its ongoing banner ads and daily newsletters, now offers Skype as an option for customer service; will Skype build partnerships or even awareness with other vendors that encourage the use of Skype for customer service and support?
  • How will Skype make users aware that Skype is more than simply voice communications, incorporating other real time communications such as Text Chat, SMS Messaging, File Transfer and, via the Extras, Desktop Sharing (Unyte).

One direction where we thought Skype and eBay were working together was reported by Phil last June just after the eBay/Skype Developers Conference. Check out the post “Skype Gets eBay Tab; Catches up with Microsoft, Google and Yahoo“. At the time I felt that, given how many eBay members track their activity in real time on mobile devices, incorporating an eBay Tab into Skype would also have the potential to drive viral adoption, given that auction activity can have a high requirement for “real time” information, especially as the end of an auction approaches.

As a result of some of my conversations at CES two weeks ago I came home and tried out Skype with an eBay tab. Don’t bother trying it even though it has been upgraded to work with Skype 3.0 (but lacks the Skypecast Tab). From what I can learn it appears this “Tab” was developed somewhere within eBay U.S. by a team that obviously has little knowledge or understanding of Skype, let alone having a “gut feel” for a user interface that drives viral adoption. Succinctly put, its operation is an embarrassment to Skype (and eBay).

My career has involved many experiences involving user testing and beta testing of software. I often measure a company’s ability to manage a software-based business not only on the quality of the software but also by observing their process for quality assurance. We certainly know, as reinforced by the experience with Skype 3.0 Beta, that Skype appears to have not only well above average Quality Assurance processes and, again from experience — I was a beta tester for the Skype Email and Skype Web Toolbars — that Skype seeks out a positive, simple customer experience. Unfortunately it appears that eBay brings a different QA culture to the table, at least when building Skype mashups. Here is what I found:

The initial screen on the Tab has no obvious way to do a user login; in addition, one of the graphics simply will not come up.(Also note that the eBay logo is not appropriately sized and positioned within the Tab itself.) And I am certainly not “new to eBay”; having used eBay several times over the past five years. But there is a Search bar so let’s try it; I am interested in the Canon Rebel series SLR cameras so I enter a Search request. I do get the listing page within the eBay tab but it all goes downhill from here. If I click on View Item, it opens the relevant eBay page in my default web browser (Firefox 2 in my case), not in the eBay Tab; If I ask to “Watch” the item I am asked (in the web browser) to log in and the item is added to my eBay Watch List. Then I can click on “Watching” in the eBay Tab to see the item. Other circumstances may bring up the Login screen in the eBay Tab.

However, it gets interesting when I am logged in and trigger a new Search. In this instance I have now asked for another Canon camera but I simply get “0 items found ….” as shown on the right; check on the eBay via a web browser and it finds the requested item. No matter what I search for I get the same result. Sort of defeats the whole purpose of the Tab in that if I am logged into eBay I cannot do a search. If I log out and do a search I can get a result. Recall that graphic in the initial screen above: it fails to come up beyond a place holder in any of the Bidding, Won or Selling sub-tabs.

Bottom Line: this version of an eBay Tab in Skype is not going to drive any viral adoption of Skype by eBay members. If anything, it will be a discouragement to try out Skype (even though Skype had little, if any, control over its development).

But at CES I learned that there is a solution available for accessing eBay through the Skype client; in fact, eBay members in Germany, France and, soon, the U.K. have access to it. More to come in a post Friday. But, most importantly, they have a solution that will help drive viral adoption of Skype amongst eBay members.

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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