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By Steve Brennen, Senior Director of Marketing and Retail Innovation, eBay Australia

At eBay, we know the pace of innovation moves at lightning speed. An idea can appear on Kickstarter looking for funds and 12 months later savvy entrepreneurs are selling that product on eBay as the must-have Christmas gift.

eBay turned 20 this year, and we know better than anyone how far technology has come in that time. Nearly everyone now has a smartphone, which has opened us up to new worlds of inspiration; as online shopping continues to grow, shoppers expect a unique, personalised customer experience that successfully blends the online and offline worlds.

With the Innovation Lab, we set out to learn from the consumer, and review the direction they desire future technology to go by introducing them to products at the cutting edge of the consumer tech category.

Held in Sydney for three days in September, we recorded Australians’ reactions to emerging technologies including holograms, robots, virtual reality, 3D printing and many other exciting developments, tracking those reactions via gaze monitoring, dwell time and mobile questionnaires. The data was analysed by futurist Chris Riddell to predict rates of technology adoption across Australia and to understand what will be next to hit the mainstream.

The research conducted was all about understanding the consumer: how long do they spend with particular products? What catches their eye? How perceptions toward technologies could change; and how did their interactions vary? It wasn’t about brands telling people what they will and won’t need or want in the future, the power is always in the consumer’s hands. The goal with our Innovation Lab research is to use that data to predict which technologies Australia will welcome into their lives and when.

Robots were the clear winner in the Innovation Lab from an engagement, interaction and rating perspective. When we marry that with our dynamic data on eBay which shows the category is currently growing at 200% year-on-year we can safely say we are on the cusp of a robot explosion around Australia, and certainly under the Christmas tree this year.

Moving into the New Year, it looks to be all about 3D entertainment. Australian consumers are ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to craving entertaining experiences and 3D is becoming a daily reality for Australians. In the eBay Innovation Lab, we saw that consumers who engaged with virtual reality and the hologram stayed and experienced it longer than they did anything else.

But the Innovation Lab did not just provide product insights, we also captured great consumer insights that can be used to educate marketing strategies. One of the most interesting findings was the different confidence levels displayed by men and women when they talked about their tech interests. Men are more prone to enthusiasm about technology that gives them greater access to media or reflects their social aspirations. Men were also the most likely to call themselves tech fanatics, but the results showed women were the ones that actually behaved like the fanatics in the lab. Once women had the opportunity to touch, feel and learn about the products, their likelihood to buy or rate the product highly dramatically increased.

Understanding these insights and the important role a physical experience plays when it comes to likelihood to consider or get excited about a product provides a major opportunity for brands to update their conversations with women: there needs to be an accessible tech discussion out there. The appetite is huge, but the approach media and brands are taking does not live up to what women need or want. The results showcased to us at eBay that what people say they want and what they actually grow to desire can sometimes be very different. Confidence and knowledge play a huge part in this and it appears that the best way to know what a customer will do is to give them a chance to actually do it.

To capture the imagination of emerging technology consumers, retail stores of the future will need to ensure they give consumers something extra in order to convince them to make a purchase, combining much richer data with ways to immerse and interact with products and a personalised shopping journey for each customer.

The eBay Innovation Lab has been a hugely exciting project for the eBay team and has provided us with some great insights into consumer buying habits. We want to thank everyone who took part! We hope it is just one of many future projects that combines the power of our data with a look at the way consumers truly think.