EBay Introduces a Clever New Twist on Window Shopping

An Ebay sign

E-commerce giant eBay (EBAY) is taking window shopping to the next level -- by letting you buy stuff online from the window itself.

Reuters reports that eBay has started installing giant touch screens on the storefronts of vacant retail properties. Passers-by will be able to browse items from retailer Fifth & Pacific and then make a purchase directly from the screen. The goods can then be delivered within an hour, and you'll be able to pay the courier with PayPal.

The first four screens will be in New York City, and will sell a limited number of items from Fifth & Pacific's (FNP) Kate Spade Saturday collection. New Yorkers will be able to find the screens in neighborhoods including SoHo and the Lower East Side from June 7 to July 8.

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For Fifth & Pacific (which until about a year ago was called Liz Claiborne), it's a great way to establish a physical presence for a new brand without making a big real estate investment or signing a lengthy lease for a storefront. It's also good news for neighborhoods -- vacant storefronts can now be transformed from eyesores into something attractive and functional during times when landlords are having trouble finding retail tenants.

Whether consumers will use the service is another question. Online shopping has always involved a tradeoff between convenience and experience -- you can't try on the clothes or test out the electronics, but you can at least make the purchases from the convenience of your couch. Putting the online retail experience into a store window is a cool way of bridging the gap between online and offline, but it also means you get none of the in-store experience and none of the shop-at-home convenience. A shopper who is already out and about in a retail-heavy neighborhood may be less inclined to buy from a giant screen if she can easily walk into a store and try on the clothes she's considering.

Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.

Fireside Chat With John Donahoe (EBay)
Fireside Chat With John Donahoe (EBay)