EBay eyes 'huge opportunities' to personalize shopping through artificial intelligence

LAS VEGAS—Cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI) technologies are the keys to delivering richer, more sophisticated shopping experiences, eBay Chief Product Officer RJ Pittman said during a presentation Tuesday here at the Shoptalk 2016 retail conference.

“I’ve yet to see great, personalized shopping experiences at scale,” Pittman said. “We think there’s huge opportunities to move forward through AI, machine learning and predictive modeling.”

Pittman cited the potential commerce benefits to be gained from AI technologies like natural language understanding, which enables software systems to understand human speech as it is spoken. For example, by processing the information in a shopper statement like “Going with my wife on a camping trip in Tahoe next month, need a tent,” eBay would automatically suggest a tent large enough for two people that’s also appropriate for Tahoe’s altitude and average temperatures in June. eBay software could also process data like the lunar calendar, recognize the camping trip is taking place during a new moon, and recommend a flashlight to combat the darkness.

“It’s about clicking in, getting deeper and providing a much richer shopping experience,” Pittman said.

AI alone isn’t going to solve the problem of personalization, Pittman added, stating that social media platforms, messaging applications, personal assistant technologies (which eBay collectively calls the “commerce fabric”) and the cloud increase the potential to create game-changing retail services.

“If you want to 10x your business, take the cloud seriously, and if you want to be where your customers are, start weaving your own commerce fabric,” Pittman said. “Get personal with AI. Solving it at scale is where the action is. That’s how we connect billions of products with billions of people.”

eBay last month reported that gross merchandise volume, or the total value of all goods sold on its sites, rose 1% during the first quarter to $20.45 billion. eBay’s active buyers rose 3.8% to 162 million. For full-year 2016, eBay expects net revenue between $8.6 billion and $8.8 billion, representing growth of 3% to 5%.

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Top image credit: eBay