eBay debuted a beta version of a new artificial intelligence-driven personalized shopping assistant called eBay ShopBot on Facebook Messenger on Monday. The bot answers search queries from shoppers, asks them questions to refine their product searches and learns from each experience, according to a company blog post.
The company launched the chatbot in beta so it could interact frequently with real shoppers, who can communicate with the assistant by texting, talking or taking a photo of an item, CNET reports.
"Shoppers have complex needs, which are often not fully met by traditional search engines. While offline retailers can offer human experts to help, there aren’t enough experts around to help us with everything we want and need," eBay Chief Product Officer R.J. Pittman wrote in a blog post. "[C]ombining AI with eBay’s breadth of inventory and unique selection will enable us to create a radically better and more personal shopping experience for virtually anyone that owns a mobile phone."
Weren't we just talking about how eBay was ramping up its use of artificial intelligence? Yes, it was just yesterday in fact when eBay rolled out its high-end eBay Collective marketplace, which uses visual search artificial intelligence and image recognition technology in its new "Shop the Room" feature. Both ShopBot and "Shop the Room" extend eBay's ongoing efforts to provide more personalized shopping experiences to consumers.
But this roll-out is a little different from yesterday's. With ShopBot, eBay is asking customers to participate in the final stages of market preparation, which might be the best way for the chatbot to learn how to do its job. It also allows customers to learn alongside their new assistant. However, releasing a beta service does come with risks, which Pittman acknowledged in his blog post: "While many shopping journeys with ShopBot will be delightful, many of them will also stump the bot and won’t work perfectly at first; that’s the nature of A.I. It will learn every day from shoppers and about the rich inventory in our catalog. The more that people use it, the smarter eBay ShopBot will get."
In the near term, ShopBot's imperfections may deter some customers from using the service until the kinks are worked out. It's important to keep in mind that it's still very early in the evolution of AI-based bots, and some shoppers could be easily put off by the technology if it doesn't meet their expectations.
eBay's announcement is yet another way sellers are taking advantage of Facebook's open call to create bots for its Messenger platform. The social network announced that move back in April and got a strong response, as 11,000 new chatbots were developed in just the first few months. eBay has put ShopBot on Messenger first, but it plans to bring its assistant to other messaging platforms in the future — perhaps once ShopBot learns the ropes from customers.