How We Used Our Buy APIs, Catch Platform to Build a New Portal for the NHS

In partnership with the U.K. National Health Services, we leveraged our Buy APIs and Catch platform to build a new portal to deliver personal protective equipment to frontline health care workers.

For 25 years, we’ve been committed to developing technology that enables opportunity at scale — in line with our founder Pierre Omidyar’s vision when he established our platform in 1995 on the basis of using tech for good. Amid the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it’s important now more than ever to tap into our ecosystem of technology, tools and resources to support our international community. One recent global collaboration illustrates how we have realized this goal with a life-saving solution using our innovations in API technology.

In March, our eBay teams partnered with the U.K. National Health Service (NHS) to launch an online portal for distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) to frontline health care workers across the country. As a result of our joint efforts, as of July 2, more than 18.5 million PPE have been shipped through the portal to the existing 21,000 health care providers who have been invited to join the platform.

When we were first contacted by the NHS, we quickly rose to the challenge. Our teams across eBay built a platform using our existing technology that was flexible and elastic enough for us to leverage for this particular project. At the end of this short period of time, we had the portal up and ready for production testing.

Teams worked long hours across eBay offices in San Jose, Portland, Salt Lake City, Berlin, London, Dublin and Zurich to make this integration happen. We are all honored to be part of this project and extremely proud to have the opportunity to help save lives.

How We Built the Platform: Using APIs and the Catch Platform

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Figure 1: Commerce and Buy API families

This particular case study illustrates the complete flexibility and adaptability of the new API portfolio for all sorts of integrations.

This specific portal is 100 percent based on our Buy APIs. APIs, or application programming interfaces, are the foundation on which today’s businesses are built.

Buy APIs enable eBay to acquire new buyers, sellers and partners; grow GMB* and revenue; empower online buying from anywhere in the world; and further amplify our global reach. We launched these APIs in late 2016 to allow partners to integrate with eBay in an entirely new way and to create innovative experiences.

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. The NHS PPE portal is actually a clone of the Catch platform that eBay launched in Germany in late 2018. We 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. In consideration of the size and scope of each health care provider, we also instituted order quantity constraints and velocity checks. These quantity constraints were to ensure the PPE items were distributed to the front line workers that needed them. 

Integration with eBay is via Buy APIs. Inventory is pulled from eBay from authorized sellers, then curated and made available on the PPE portal platform. Authorized U.K. 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

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Figure 2: NHS PPE Portal integration with Buy APIs

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. This issue necessitated innovative solutions, especially considering that we are currently in the midst of getting ready for our Managed Payments platform to launch. Our approach was to partner with our payments engineering teams to slightly modify eBay’s internal checkout capabilities. Another challenge was to make PPE items exclusive to the NHS portal. We made sure that our infrastructure capabilities can support surfacing such items and enabling purchases in a controlled way.

Celebrating Our eBay Developers Program

This year, we are celebrating 20 years of the eBay Developers Program. We launched our first APIs along with the developers program in November 2000, pioneering public API development. Though we started the journey to revamp the eBay Developers Program in 2016, our vision throughout has remained the same: to continue building a quality API portfolio for developers around the globe that enables us to expand our eBay business into new contexts.

Now, two decades after we started the Developers Program, we have an adaptable API portfolio that adds value and benefits to our customers, sellers and buyers through this large, powerful ecosystem of developer applications. 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. Another example of the agility of our API capabilities can be seen in our eBay for Charity program, in which developers can enable users to support favorite charities whenever they buy or sell on eBay.

Overall, APIs are the building blocks of the digital economy and an essential part of growing a successful business. The possibilities are endless; we look forward to seeing what the imagination and ingenuity of developers help build next.

* GMB is Gross Merchandise Bought