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eBay delivers PPE to thousands of frontline healthcare workers in the UK

The e-commerce company partnered with the UK’s National Health Services and used its Buy APIs and Catch Platform to build a portal.


Image: eBay

More than 18.5 million pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) have been shipped to frontline healthcare workers in the UK through a portal developed by eBay in partnership with the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). The PPE has gone to 21,000 health care providers who have been invited to join the online platform, said Tanya Vlahovic, head of the developer ecosystem and lead architect for Public APIs at eBay.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, eBay was contacted by the NHS, and company teams around the world collaborated to build a platform using existing technology “that was flexible and elastic enough for us to leverage for this particular project,” Vlahovic said.  

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Building the platform with APIs and the Catch Platform

The eBay teams built the platform using its Buy APIs, which enable eBay to acquire new buyers, sellers, and partners, she said. The APIs were launched in late 2016 to allow partners to integrate with eBay in a new way and to create innovative experiences, Vlahovic said.

“In the case of this project, our teams were able to adapt other components of our technology and tailor them to solve the particular needs at hand,” she said.

The NHS PPE portal the teams designed is a clone of the Catch platform that eBay launched in Germany in late 2018. The teams reused the Catch platform “and customized it to create a portal with access limited to authorized British health care providers, ensuring that the PPE items are delivered to workers on the front lines of the fight against the COVID-19,” Vlahovic said.

In consideration of the size and scope of each health care provider, eBay implemented order quantity constraints to ensure the PPE items were distributed to the frontline workers that needed them, she said.

The integration with eBay is achieved through its Buy APIs. Inventory is pulled from eBay from authorized sellers, then curated and made available on the PPE portal platform, according to Vlahovic said. Authorized UK health care providers can browse for PPE inventory on the portal and submit their orders, which are then placed via Buy Order API. The items are all shipped directly from eBay sellers to the health care providers.

Solving to enable zero-cost transactions

“One of the most inventive challenges we had to solve for the portal was how to enable zero-cost transactions of PPE items via Buy APIs,” Vlahovic noted. “This issue necessitated innovative solutions, especially considering that we are currently in the midst of getting ready for our Managed Payments platform to launch.”

Their approach was to partner with internal payments engineering teams to slightly modify eBay’s internal checkout capabilities. Another challenge was to make PPE items exclusive to the NHS portal. The teams had to make sure that the infrastructure capabilities could support surfacing such items and enabling purchases in a controlled way, Vlahovic said.

“Our recent partnership with the NHS highlights the ease and agility with which our platform and technology can be used for a good cause and help respond to crisis situations,” she said.

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