The Permanent Future Of Conversational Commerce: eBay’s RJ Pittman On AI And Chatbots

At the time, RJ Pittman, chief product officer at eBay, said: "Combining 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.” Now, more than nine months on, the team is finding those who use the chatbot are nearly three times more likely to do so to ask questions on specific products versus browsing eBay’s inventory for inspiration and discovery – suggesting both engagement and retention are high. eBay ShopBot uses deep learning algorithms paired with natural language understanding (NLU) and computer vision to help users express their shopping needs naturally. RJP: There is definitely still work to be done by both the messaging platforms and brands to ensure bots are advancing, to make the conversations with shoppers meaningful. The user experience and interface of messaging platforms were not initially built for search, discovery or purchase. Bots are still a nascent platform for commerce, but the more bots learn from user behavior, the faster they can evolve and adapt to create a seamless and natural experience. eBay eBay Shopbot on Facebook Messenger RA: How are you seeing the technology becoming more intelligent? The vast majority of bots today simply pass keywords from a user's message as input into a search engine, which then returns search results in a messaging window. Also, computer vision algorithms continue to improve the more things they can 'see' and learn from. And of course, with eBay ShopBot, shopping with Google Home will be possible with just a simple conversation. RJP: AI will finally enable truly personalized shopping in the way that today we see delivered by the best human sales assistants – those who build trust and confidence with their shoppers.

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eBay Shopbot on Facebook Messenger
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eBay Shopbot on Facebook Messenger

Fashion and electronics are the two top categories users are browsing on eBay’s Shopbot, according to the e-commerce company’s latest insights.

The Facebook Messenger-based chatbot, which launched in October 2016, aims to satisfy consumer demands for richer and more contextually relevant search enquiries. At the time, RJ Pittman, chief product officer at eBay, said: “Combining 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.”

Now, more than nine months on, the team is finding those who use the chatbot are nearly three times more likely to do so to ask questions on specific products versus browsing eBay’s inventory for inspiration and discovery – suggesting both engagement and retention are high.

I caught up with Pittman to hear more about the progress Shopbot has made, as well as to understand his views on the future of AI and conversational commerce.

RA: Can you share an update on eBay ShopBot – what has it achieved and how are you seeing users interact?

RJP: eBay ShopBot has created an opportunity for eBay to reach a new group of shoppers on one of the largest social messaging platforms—Facebook Messenger, which has over 1B monthly active users.

We have been testing a number of new personalized shopping techniques in beta (including eBay ShopBot) whereby shoppers can save both time and money. In eBay ShopBot’s case, shoppers can enlist the bot to do the heavy lifting of deal hunting and discovery for them, through a simple conversation or a photo.

eBay ShopBot uses deep learning algorithms paired with natural language understanding (NLU) and computer vision to help users express their shopping needs naturally. eBay ShopBot can even create a size profile so that all of our curated collections and browsable inventory is presented in just the right size.

RA: There’s been a fair amount of criticism that such bots aren’t the best user experience, what are your thoughts on what needs to improve?

RJP: There is definitely still work to be done by both the messaging platforms and brands to ensure bots are advancing, to make the conversations with shoppers meaningful.

The user experience and interface of messaging platforms were not initially built for search, discovery or purchase. This is an area where improvements can be made. The messaging canvas where chats occur can be laid out in new and different ways to support product browsing when shopping versus using a single column flow for sequential chat messages. Also, we want to make it easier to discover and learn that great shopping bots exist on these large platforms.

As the bot industry matures, so too must the platforms that support them. Organizing a directory, catalog, or bot ‘store’ not unlike an App Store is on the horizon. This will help tremendously with the exposure and more casual adoption of bots in messaging.

Bots are still a nascent platform for commerce, but the more bots learn from user behavior, the faster they can evolve and adapt to create a seamless and natural experience.

eBay Shopbot on Facebook Messenger
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eBay Shopbot on Facebook Messenger

RA: How are you seeing the technology becoming more intelligent?

RJP: True artificial intelligence is the key. NLU is vital to capturing shopping intent, from which a rich shopping experience can occur.

The vast…

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