eBay ShopBot, artificial intelligence and how to get your products sold

At various talks I’ve given this year I’ve spoken about Amazon Echo and Google Home with some excitement regarding artificial intelligence and the future of the Internet. Each time I’ve stated that eBay as a marketplace don’t invent hardware devices but they do have a fantastic record of leveraging other people’s technology.

eBay were quick to adopt mobile with the eBay mobile app becoming the most download app ever. Unlike Amazon, eBay never tried to make a smartphone, they just made an app to work on other people’s smartphones, although today Blackberry and Windows apps are dead, the eBay Android and iPhone/iPad apps are as popular as ever.

I’ve confidently predicted that eBay will do the same with the next generation of artificial intelligence devices coming on to the market. It’s still very early days and both Amazon Echo and Google Home are disappointing basic and fundamentally useless products. Sure they’ll both play music (actually that’s what they’re best at), answer some rudimentary questions and with a great deal of expense and effort you can get some home automation for lighting and heating controlled from apps or by voice command. The devices are bleeding edge and the second generation devices are likely to be much better and that’s when I foresee eBay jumping on board.

ebay-shopbotIn the mean time eBay aren’t doing nothing, they’re beavering away in the background developing artificial intelligence solutions and they have one running live which you can play with today. It’s on Facebook Messenger and if you’ve got the messenger app installed on your smartphone (or use your computer) you can talk to the eBay ShopBot.

To play with eBay’s artificial intelligence beta test go to shopbot.ebay.com, or just search for eBay ShopBot in Messenger. You can then tell the ShopBot what you’re looking for and it’ll try to find suitable products on eBay for you.

ShopBot isn’t perfect – the voice search doesn’t work yet (at least not for me), it only works on eBay.com and even then only in slected categories. What it does show though is to narrow down a search it’s heavily reliant on structured data which in eBay parlance is Item Specifics.

I asked ShopBot for men’s shoes and the questions it came back with were: Which US show Size (Men’s) are you looking for?; Which Material are you looking for?; and Which Brand do you want? If you’ve not completed eBay’s structured data this is a simple warning that in a world of artificial intelligence your products are never going to be found.

Sure on eBay search and browse customers may stumble across your listing even if you complete no structured data at all. With smaller mobile screens you’ll already be starting to suffer and as soon as widespread adoption of artificial intelligence devices becomes mainstream you sales will be decimated.

ShopBot isn’t something you’ll want to use regularly, especially if you’re not buying on eBay.com but every seller should have a play for five minutes. You’ll want to search for products similar to those that you sell and understand how artificial intelligence can narrow down a search and figure out how to ensure that your listings would be surfaced if a buyer wanted to purchase them.