Auction Giant eBay Hits London With West End Shop

Online auction giant eBay is briefly opening a shop in London’s West End for a short period of time

Online auction house eBay is hitting the UK high street in the run up to Christmas, telling eWEEK Europe it is an experiment to help British customers gain experience of mobile online shopping with their smartphones.

The company said it will open what it calls a ‘Christmas Boutique’ in central London. The shop itself will be located right in the heart of the West End, on Dean Street, just off Oxford Street.

However the shop will only be open for a very short period, from 1 to 5 December. A spokeswoman for eBay told eWEEK Europe that this weekend is predicted to the busiest online shopping period in the run-up to Christmas.

Online Shopping, On The High Street

Unlike conventional shops, the eBay boutique will have no tills and goods cannot be purchased in store. Indeed, it will only hold a limited selection of products. The company describes it as a shop with an online twist.

“The eBay Christmas boutique will be the UK’s first ever Quick Response (QR) code shopping emporium. Using mobile technology consumers can browse and shop all in a single inspiring location,” said the company.

The products will then be delivered to people’s homes, freeing customers from long queues and heavy bags.

Retail Experiment

The company told eWEEK Europe that the shop is a retail experiment, designed to get British users comfortable with doing online shopping with their smartphones.

For those customers without a smartphone, HTC is teaming up with eBay and will be on hand to loan the shopper a smartphone so they can complete their shopping. There will be also up to eight tablets in one section of the shop so customers can browse all the products on the eBay online store.

The idea of an online presence making an appearance on the British high street is not a new one.

Indeed, the American PC manufacturer Gateway for example experimented with a so called “clicks and mortar” approach to market, with shops in Covent Garden and elsewhere across the UK. That approach didn’t end well for the company, but others such as Apple have a high street presence in the UK.

Mobile Frustration

But the eBay retail experiment comes soon after it called for urgent action regarding the rollout of 4G technology in the UK.

Earlier this week eBay submitted a ‘mobile manifesto’ to the government, saying that 4G was needed now in order to captialise on the growth of the UK’s mobile-powered economy.

The company partly attributed a recent increase in its sales and profits to the growth of mobile commerce and claims that mobile shopping could provide a £4.5 billion boost to the UK economy by 2016 and a further £13 billion by 2021.

The manifesto calls on Ofcom to accelerate the delayed 4G spectrum auction as much as possible. It claims that nearly half of 2,000 people questioned said that they were unhappy with the speed of their connection and were discouraged from spending money online.

It said that a 4G rollout  would provide a boost for retailers and that major rail and road routes should receive priority, because a third of customers already shop on their mobiles while travelling.

4G Delays

In October Ofcom officially confirmed that its auction of 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum was to be delayed, after it received a “substantial” number of “strongly argued” responses to its first consultation.

There is little doubt the UK is slipping behind other European countries in the rollout of 4G. Finland, Germany and Sweden have already had 4G networks for a number of years now, but the UK has been hampered by the delay in freeing up TV spectrum.

The EU has told member states they they must clear the 800MHz band for mobile broadband before 2013.

However the UK is unlikely to have a nationwide service before 2017, a delay which could cost British businesses up to £730 million a year.