EBay is hunting for acquisitions to speed up its development of image recognition and augmented reality features as the online retailer and auctioneer seeks to capitalize on the potential of mobile phones to help consumers make impulse purchases.
Image recognition, which rival Amazon.com already has, would allow users to photograph an object with their phone, send the image to eBay, find a match in the online store and buy it within seconds -- before losing interest.
Steve Yankovich, head of eBay mobile, told Reuters his division had the company's full support to spend money on innovative technology, as the fastest growing part of eBay which is helping to renew the 15-year-old company's image.
Augmented reality features could allow users to see themselves in items of clothing they might want to buy, picture a car they like in different colors, or see what kind of light a lamp would shed in their living room.
"The company is really behind using mobile as an innovation platform to try new ways to engage the user ... and it's also a place where they see investing in technology as the right thing to do," Yankovich said in an interview in London on Wednesday.
"I'm looking for companies that do interesting things with image recognition and also augmented reality," he said, adding that he hoped to have image recognition and more augmented reality features available this year.
EBay, which says it is bigger than Amazon in mobile commerce, expects to more than double its mobile gross merchandise volume this year to $4 billion. Last year eBay's total gross merchandise volume was $53.5 billion.
Amazon does not break out mobile sales but eBay has about half the estimated total global market for physical goods sold via mobile.
Yankovich said eBay's mobile users were both growing fast in numbers and were typically more engaged than users on computers, visiting the site 10 to 15 times per day to check the status of their bids for items in the marketplace or simply to kill time.
"People have a few moments of spare time all throughout the day and they're snacking, they make little snacks of eBay," he said. "And the situation they're in is inspiring the purchase."
He said speed of result was key to closing a transaction.
"It's fleeting. If you get pulled off of what you're doing -- and you do when you're out and about -- if I can't get you to do it super-fast you might never get back to it so you might not buy," he said in the interview at the Open Mobile Summit.
"When the tsunami happened in Japan our bids per minute on mobile dropped. It's not because we do business on eBay in Japan -- we don't -- but people were snacking on some news instead of some eBay."
Yankovich said listing an item for sale on the site took 38 seconds on a mobile phone, compared with 20 minutes on the computer website, aided by time-saving features like being able to scan in a barcode instead of typing in details.
EBay bought barcode technology firm Redlaser last year to help make the mobile experience smoother.
Yankovich said eBay was receiving 420,000 new listings per week just from Apple's iPhone, and had won 300,000 new shoppers on the iPhone this year who had never made an eBay purchase before.
EBay also has mobile apps for the iPad, Google Android phones, Research in Motion's BlackBerry and Microsoft's Windows Phone.
(Editing by Greg Mahlich)