You may not have realized it, but eBay, the multinational e-commerce site, has used artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies for more than a decade specifically to match buyers with the right sellers. But that’s not the only way they use AI technology to enhance the buying and selling experience on their site. Devin Wenig, eBay President and CEO wrote in 2016, “I believe that commerce, in particular, will be the focus of some of the most immediate and exciting applications of AI.” If recent developments are any indication, eBay is jockeying to be the industry leader for AI implementations in online e-commerce.
20+ Years of Data
With an estimated 179 million active buyers, 1.2 billion live listings and tens of millions of sellers across 190 markets, eBay is where the world goes shopping. The company was founded in 1995 and since then has played an important role in creating “an inclusive and accessible commerce platform.” With numerous acquisitions and technology advances over the years, eBay is one of the world’s top 10 e-commerce companies and hired Jan Pedersen, formerly of Twitter and Microsoft, as vice president and chief scientist, artificial intelligence in 2018. The company used two decades of data and customer behavior insights to train its AI algorithms. These algorithms continue to get smarter every time a buyer and seller interact on the platform.
How eBay Uses Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
eBay uses artificial intelligence in personalization, search, insights, discovery and its recommendation systems along with computer vision, translation, natural language processing and more. They take a four-pronged approach with artificial intelligence: “improve the customer experience, build and deploy the right infrastructure for the unique needs of eBay, apply core AI and domain AI science to all that we do, and ensure everything is done in service of the customer experience.”
Here are a few specific examples of how they use artificial intelligence.
Improve the buyer experience: AI-powered tools anticipate the needs of buyers, recommends items and inspires shoppers. With fine-tuned personalization abilities, the site tries to make the shopping experience customized to the needs of every shopper. A part of this was introducing Interests, the ability for shoppers to personalize their shopping experience based on their passions and styles.
Enhance search: eBay uses AI to understand the context of a search and then provide a full spectrum of relevant products. With computer vision, the company was able to add image search to its capabilities and made camera phones e-commerce devices to allow buyers to use images as a search query. As part of the app, artificial intelligence will help shoppers find items similar to the one they were looking at.
Platform as a service: eBay provides the cutting-edge AI-powered tools for sellers so they don’t have to and to level the playing field for sellers who would never be able to compete with others who had this technology. Data, metrics and analytics information is managed on the platform and can be used by the seller.
Optimize pricing and selling: Machine learning can help sellers identify the best prices, when they should list a specific product and when to market themselves to better attract buyers.
Machine translation: Languages are no barrier between buyer and seller on eBay thanks to the company’s machine translation capabilities. It’s so good that the time to process orders for international clients has reduced significantly.
Advertisement engine: Promoted listings on eBay and advertisements off the site are all powered by AI algorithms to improve the purchase journey and help buyers discover more of eBay’s inventory.
Leverage deep learning: While eBay has used AI for the past decade, there were still complex problems they were unable to solve. With the advances in deep learning, the company has been able to scale to larger and more complex data sets which ultimately allows them to process billions of data points and make their services even better.
Augmented reality to simplify shipping: Finding the optimal box for shipping your item just became easier with eBay’s augmented reality technology on their app. This feature allows you to place a real-world item into a virtual shipping box.
All of this investment in artificial intelligence is good for eBay’s business as well. AI is driving incremental sales “north of $1 billion per quarter” according to Tom Pinckney, VP of applied research at eBay. That helped the company record a net income of $763 million for the fourth quarter of 2018.
Bernard Marr is a bestselling author, keynote speaker, and advisor to companies and governments. He has worked with and advised many of the world's best-known organisations. LinkedIn has recently ranked Bernard as one of the top 10 Business Influencers in the world (in fact, No 5 - just behind Bill Gates and Richard Branson). He writes on the topics of intelligent business performance for various publications including Forbes, HuffPost, and LinkedIn Pulse. His blogs and SlideShare presentation have millions of readers.