It was announced in a big marketing splash: eBay will buy Skype. The business analysts were perplex, the Skype consumers surprised. Why in the world would an online auction company acquire an online communication service provider?
Market studies, social and behavior trends studies were certainly conducted by Ebay in order to make the move. The reporting of these findings did not make it in the media, maybe by choice from Ebay, to not release information to competitors.
Per Richard Waters and James Politi, from the Financial Times, Ebay, as a network that links many private buyers and sellers around the world, already acts as a giant communications company, handling millions of e-mails a day; though it does not have a real-time communications network to let its users contact each other to agree deals or settle disputes.
The auction company’s executives justify the purchase by saying that adding a voice calling feature to its existing online network will allow it to charge fees to merchants for generating sales leads. The $2 to $3 million price tag seems high, with this insufficient justification. Would there be another vision, based on possible social behavior scenarios?
People are already communicating over the internet with email, chat and conference capabilities. The penetration of PC/Macs at home in the Western world is about 75% and at work 98%. What if you would enable buyers and sellers to communicate live over the internet, and have them negotiate their deals? Would it increase the chance of closing transactions?
In the late 90’s, when the streaming media technology appeared on the market, we were all dreaming of its endless applications. We would envision free and on-demand view of any show for anybody, anywhere. We could broadcast a live concert and have, simultaneously, online fundraising for causes. We would bring together people to share knowledge and experience. Professionals in the industry also developed business plans for re-known auctioneers: we could broadcast live auctions, available by subscriptions over the internet, and have people make bids from all over the world. This business model never materialized because the cost of technology then was too high. In addition, the consumer market was not ready for broadband.
Today, e-commerce companies see their market maturing, technology is more affordable and high-speed connection has a broader coverage. Skype does not use video yet but only audio, which requires less broadband width. Ebay might be very reasonable with its plans: it is going one step at a time. In less time that we realize, it might bring video features in live auctions and for the sales of any good or service.
With that vision, we would go full circle. One would be navigating live, on a market. There would be deals between sellers and buyers, negotiating, bargaining. Do you have a sense of déjà vu, from your local farmers’ market (increasingly popular) or from visiting the market place of any rural village, the parking lot of used cars on Sunday or at the bazaar in Arabic countries? Ebay’s market might be open 24 hours a days, worldwide, accessible to all and alive!