eBay is trying to revolutionize local commerce. Its new product, eBay Now, promises consumers same-day delivery of products found at local retailers. It weaves together eBay’s acquisition of Milo.com and its launch of PayPal Here in a way that makes ordering a hard drive much easier than ordering a pizza. And it arrives just as fast.

I received an invitation to an early beta of eBay Now currently underway in San Francisco. The beta includes “all eBay shoppers who have SF addresses on file and opted to receive emails,” said Lina Shustarovich, an eBay spokeswoman.

I ordered a hard drive and had it within an hour. Although services like TaskRabbit and Postmates offer variations of local delivery services, eBay Now seems focused on chain retailers. With Postmates, I can order from any business. What makes eBay Now particularly interesting (and a stronger competitor to Amazon) is that it incorporates real-time inventory data from eBay’s Milo.com acquisition. eBay has partnered with marquee local names like Nordstrom, Best Buy, Target, Macy’s, and Bloomingdales.

The experience starts off with some use cases; that’s especially important in launching a new concept.

You can search by product or see items at one of the featured retailers. I placed an order for a Toshiba portable hard drive. (I figured out that my hard drive was coming from Best Buy based on the map.) The fact that eBay didn’t expressly tell me which retailer I was buying from could either be an omission or it could indicate an intention for eBay to use local retailers as warehouses and own the customer relationship. If there’s substantial demand, eBay could then figure out which products it should warehouse itself and which to source from local retailers. It would make logistical and economic sense to warehouse products like iPhone batteries, condoms, and beer and to use local retailers for long-tail items.

“I wouldn’t say we’re trying to use stores as warehouses,” Shustarovich said. “As you know, on ebay.com/local, RedLaser, and Milo, we send people from the Web/mobile phones and into stores to buy. eBay Now is our way of making local shopping more convenient and easier than ever before. It gives shoppers choice and another option for local.”

Placing the order was almost too easy; there was substantially less friction than with most mobile apps. Within a minute or so, an eBay Now courier called John had accepted my order. I could see the location of John’s car as he drove to Best Buy. The app kept me updated on the fact that he had picked up my order and was on his way. The estimated delivery time moved up and down as he made his trip.

The final leg of the delivery was longer than necessary because John didn’t have my apartment number, despite it being stored in my account. When he arrived, I paid with the PayPal Here app on his iPhone.

I didn’t receive a receipt from Best Buy; my only receipt is from eBay Now. Again, this provides for some interesting speculation on where eBay may be trying to take this.

John said he’s been working with eBay Now for about a week and has made four deliveries. He found out about eBay Now through a friend who encouraged him to apply. He had also been trained to ask me some questions about my eBay Now experience, including how I found out about it (by email) and whether I’d use it again (probably).

In this case, Best Buy’s price turned out to be the same as what Amazon is charging, $54.99. Coincidentally, while I was waiting for my hard drive, I received a shipping notice for an Amazon order I placed last Tuesday. That’s due to arrive tomorrow.

Although not incorporated in the current product, I can imagine that small businesses who use PayPal Here would have their inventory loaded into the same database. That would give small businesses a big reason to choose PayPal Here over Square.

For the beta, eBay is waiving the $5 delivery charge for the first three orders and also taking an additional $15 off the first order.

The service had a few hiccups along the way, which is to be expected of a product this early:

  • The app didn’t have my apartment number in the correct spot. On my screen it showed up in front of the street address. According to the courier, he didn’t see it at all. Given that high density areas is where eBay Now will work best, having that fixed is critical.
  • The pricing shown in the app didn’t reflect the promotional credit, but it was correct in the final tally.
  • The first credit card I used didn’t work. There’s no reason it shouldn’t have worked.
  • The app doesn’t accept SMS. (But it is smart enough to have an auto responder to that effect.)

One other thing that is unclear: I have no idea how to return the unnecessary hard drive I just ordered. Maybe I can sell it on eBay.

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