Pass the credit card: Couch commerce invades your living room

As I write this post on my laptop computer, a movie is playing in the background (for the record, it’s Good Will Hunting on Netflix). My Blackberry is in my purse but well within reach. My Android phone is on the coffee table in front of me, and a second laptop is just a few feet away from me.

If only I had an actual cable TV subscription, I’d be the spitting image of the demographic eBay is hoping to reach with its interactive shopping app, “Watch with eBay.”


I don’t personally know anyone who owns a next-generation interactive TV, and I’ve never used a television set to buy anything more sophisticated than a pay-per-view flick. But a recent report by WorldPay (2012) asserts that 1 in 5 consumers worldwide own interactive TVs, and about 25% of that number have bought goods or services using their enhanced sets.

What is couch commerce?
Broadly speaking, “couch commerce” refers to any shopping consumers perform at their leisure using mobile devices, and it’s a phenomenon that’s growing by leaps and bounds. Consider this infographic, which illuminates the rapid increase in mobile payments made between 2010 and 2011 (Monetate, 2011):


More specifically, couch commerce has come to mean the shopping we do on our mobile devices while watching television. This meaning relies on the notion that today’s television viewers increasingly use their smartphones and tablets as “second screens” (WorldPay, 2012).  eBay is among the first to capitalize on this phenomenon with its application for iPad and iPhone called Watch with eBay.

How It Works
After downloading the app, consumers are asked to tell eBay what they’re watching by indicating their zip code and cable or satellite provider (eBay, 2011). Based on this information, the app delivers the consumer’s own program schedule to the device, and the consumer selects the exact program he or she is watching (eBay, 2011).

The consumer’s “second screen” thus synchronized, Watch with eBay supplies the consumer with real-time shopping suggestions related to what’s on TV. For instance, a consumer who uses the app while viewing a football game will be offered the opportunity to buy team merchandise. During the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, Watch with eBay connected fans with the Nike shoes worn by their favorite runners (Rueter, 2012). Did you find the indie dress Hannah wore in this week’s Girls just darling? Maybe Watch with eBay could show you exactly where to buy it.

The Verdict
The experience seems to work best when the app satisfies our curiosity in ways we could not easily achieve ourselves. You may love the leather briefcase carried by your favorite TV detective, but you’d be hard pressed to find it unassisted. When Watch with eBay answers this type of burning question, it connects with users in a meaningful way.

But not all reviewers are thrilled with the Watch with eBay experience. Consumers seem least impressed when the app returns products that are only loosely aligned with the live viewing experience (Wolff, 2011). A fan of How I Met Your Mother doesn’t need the assistance of an app to find and buy the Season 1 box set. Virtually anyone who knows how to download an app also knows how to use Amazon.

What’s Next?
In a comment on another student’s post, I predicted that the future will bring us personalized digital product placements. That is, when advertisers digitally add a box of cereal onto the kitchen table of our favorite sitcom family, the brand of cereal displayed will vary based on what marketers know about us from our search history and other collected data.

Along the same vein, it’s easy to imagine a more integrated interactive shopping experience is just around the corner. Retailers are forever looking for ways to “hook” consumers, and couch commerce allows shoppers to indulge their impulse buying habits 24/7 — no barkers or expensive store displays needed (Happach, 2012). I think we’ll see applications like Watch with eBay become much more sophisticated over time.

And, of course, there’s always the question of what’s next. eBay has already rolled out another app to leverage consumers’ seemingly boundless fascination with all things Hollywood (can I say that to bunch of jaded Angelenos?). Called “eBay Celebrity,” the app encourages consumers to follow in the footsteps of their favorite stars. Katy Perry says she likes to search eBay for Jonathan Taylor Thomas memorabilia — why shouldn’t you?


eBay. (2011). Watch with eBay: How it works. Retrieved from

Happach, S. (2012, July 2). Internet and interactive TV — the retail revolution. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Monetate. (2012, June 29). Couch commerce: How tablet shoppers are changing online sales. Retrieved from:

Rueter, T. (2012, July 27. eBay goes for Olympic gold. Internet Retailer. Retrieved from

Wolff, M. (2011, December 12). Watch with eBay, or don’t. Techcitement. Retrieved from

WorldPay. (2012). Are you giving your customers what they really, really want? Retrieved from

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Pass the credit card: Couch commerce invades your living room

  1. Justin McAneny says:

    Wow. I hadn’t seen this yet. It’s like QR codes on steroids and for even lazier shoppers. I thought having everything delivered was as low as I could go, but couch commerce, that’s great. Has marketing and delivering a product just taken all of the intrigue of shopping out of the equation? Why wander down the street and see something in a window when I can take advantage of eBay?

    • lweekley says:

      I know what you mean! It’s really an interesting development. And if this is the wave of the future, I wonder how marketers will adapt to compete for our attention in this space. If consumers no long even need to Google search to find stuff to buy, will advertisers redirect money from Google AdWords to paying for improved placement on apps like Watch with eBay?

      I’m really curious to find out if one of our peers has tried this service. I’d love to hear about their experience.

  2. kull says:

    Great post! I was unaware of this until reading your piece. Thank you for including the video link. It did a good job of explaining what this service provides.

    I’m with Justin, however. To me, it’s a sad state of our consumer culture to take this step. The lines between advertising, retail and entertainment just keep getting more blurrier. I don’t want to have my Downton Abby stars schilling fashions and cutlery during the program. It cheapens the production and the story.

    Next stop, eBay library where all of our favorite books can be read and we can purchase Oliver Twist gruel and search for collectible jalopies while reading The Grapes of Wrath.

    Amy the curmudgeon

    • lweekley says:

      Miss Curmudgeon,

      I’m with you — this seems like the kind of marketing development that could precipitate our final evolution into the “fat, lazy leisure addicts” (Scott, 2008) of Pixar’s Wall-E.

      Your imagined “eBay Library” makes a scary sort of sense. Back in 2006, the first Twilight book was circulating my office. I’m embarrassed to admit that I read it (although that’s as far into the book/movie franchise as I ever got). I vividly recall reading a passage where the vampire hero and teenage heroine listen to Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” and thinking to myself, “now there’s a great way to sell classical music to an unexpected audience.” I can totally see that kind of product tie-in as a sidebar advertisement on an eReader.

  3. cmcoleman says:

    Very interesting and a little freaky. I swear since I started searching Kellogg’s on my computer that I’ve seen more Kellogg’s commercials on TV than I ever have before. I’m sure it’s just that I’m paying attention for them, but I have to wonder if it’s not somehow connected to Uverse.

    • lweekley says:

      I see Kellogg’s ads everywhere now, too! I have no doubt my search history has impacted my exposure to targeted Web ads. But it is definitely interesting (and creepy) to consider how our television providers, who are often our Internet providers as well, could use that same search history.

      I suddenly feel the urge to wash my hands. Ha, ha.

  4. milissa_douponce says:

    Awesome post. The marketer in me says what a crazy genius app and the boomer consumer in me says, ugh another way to show me how lacking my life is without said product. This is a better version of Shopnbc which tries to merge QVC with entertainment programming. What would be interesting is to measure those who older QVC purchasers in terms of behaviors and spending vs. the younger 2nd screen couch commerce consumers.
    Great find! Milissa

    • lweekley says:

      Oh, very interesting, Milissa! I’ve never heard of ShopNBC before. It does seem like a variant on QVC.

      Most of the QVC addicts I know (my mother is one) do seem to be at least a generation behind Watch with eBay’s target demographic. I agree that a comparison of shopping behaviors between these two groups is a line of inquiry with potential!

  5. guia says:

    I hadn’t thought of this! I personally don’t use my mobile device to order anything (only because I’m worried it’s not secure enough). However, I am a fan of the convenience of online shopping.

    Given the troves of people who use online shopping to replace conventional shopping, it’s not surprising to me to try to mix shopping and interactive television. Another consideration is how DVRs have changed the viewing experience. Now, I don’t have to watch commercials. From an advertisers point of view, this is detrimental to their business since I don’t want commercials, I can’t be influenced. Both from a product selling and advertising point of view, bringing shopping directly to interactive television is a smart idea. I’m interested to see if it takes off though.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • lweekley says:

      You know, I don’t usually buy things on my phone, either (and I don’t own a tablet). And yet I’ve definitely made payments to quite a few merchants who collected my money using a mobile device. Maybe it’s all just a matter of time..

  6. lynnhoff17 says:

    As someone who already worries a little about my multitasking, reading AP mobile while watching TV, (reviews of the book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains should have scared me straight, but didn’t) I shouldn’t be excited about this idea, but I am. Not only have I seen a great handbag or sweater on a show and would love to know where to get it, but this would be great for the show soundtracks. Don’t make me go find the show website and navigate to “music” and then make me look at each episode … tell me RIGHT NOW what the song is and take me to iTunes to buy it. (I realize Shazam is supposed to do that but it doesn’t always work for me.)

    Then again, if I had this type of technology, I suspect it would be long before my preschooler discovered I had it … and oh the trouble that could cause.