Yahoo has a new CEO. Scott Thompson is the former president of eBay’s PayPal, one of the most popular online payment systems. The move comes at a time when there are generally low expectations about Yahoo and doubts about its focus in opposition to Internet giants like Google and Facebook. Yahoo has typically focused on advertising, but the arrival of Thompson could signify a shift in focus — and it could affect mobile.
From a recent USA Today article, Thompson has said he sees opportunity for Yahoo with mobile:
The winners in mobile haven’t been defined yet. There’s no reason why that shouldn’t be Yahoo. You can imagine that will be right there in the middle of what we’re going to do . . . In both mobile and social, the game has yet to play out. —Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson
Thompson also mentioned that no one knows what social looks like in terms of commerce. He says social commerce an area where Yahoo isn’t starting from zero — there are assets they can leverage.
That’s vague, but the term “social commerce” was, in fact, coined by Yahoo in 2005 (here’s a good aggregate of its definitions). David Beisel states it well with this question: “What better way to advertise a product than to have a friend recommend it to you?”
Since so much commerce — particularly local commerce — happens on mobile these days, Yahoo may indeed be in a good position to innovate social and mobile commerce, especially with an enthusiastic new CEO straight from one of e-commerce’s largest cash cows. And the best part: Thompson has a background in mobile.
According to Mobile Marketer, Thompson led PayPal during a period when it significantly increased its presence in mobile payments — particularly from 2009 to 2010. During that time, PayPal became eBay’s fastest growing business. It developed programs for customers to bump phones to transfer money, deposit checks via a smartphone camera and pay for items using PayPal in third-party mobile apps and sites. eBay reported that from 2009 to 2010, mobile payment volume for PayPal increased five times, handling $3.5 billion in mobile transactions in 2010.
But even if Thompson is the right guy to innovate mobile for Yahoo, there’s still an uphill battle to fight. Yahoo has a reputation for being cripplingly behind other Internet players. Yahoo Mobile got a nod in early 2009 when former Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz identified mobile as one of her main focuses. But a year later Yahoo’s reorganization led to the exodus of several Yahoo leaders, including David Ko, head of Yahoo Mobile. Since then, there’s been a murky mobile strategy at best from Yahoo. Worse, Yahoo has to contend with Google’s GoMo initiative, which is garnering attention for its industry research and simply stated appeal for businesses to go mobile.
We’re interested to see how Yahoo fares under new leadership and whether it can reinvent itself into a viable mobile player, but we’re not holding our breath. Thompson, you’ve got a lot of work to do.