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eBay ShopBot launches in beta version

Marketplace giant eBay has this week launched the beta version of ShopBot in Facebook Messenger, joining a number of retail brands, including Sephora, H&M and Taco Bell, that are taking a conversation-based approach to various online retail transactions, including finding products, placing orders and customer service.

eBay ShopBot is a personalised shopping assistant intended to help people find deals among eBay’s one billion listings. The bot is powered by artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing and human judgment.

As e-commerce inventories expand, they have become increasingly difficult to navigate using traditional search or filtering methods. Retailers are now deploying virtual assistants to help online customers find products by replicating the kind of instore conversations that occur between sales assistants and customers.

AI’s ability to provide contextual understanding, predictive modeling, and machine learning makes it possible for customers to communicate with chatbots using natural language. eBay spruiks ShopBot as being as easy as talking to a friend.

Anyone can beta test the early beginnings of ShopBot by texting, talking or snapping a picture to tell the shopping assistant what they’re looking for. The bot will then ask questions to better understand intent, and make personalised recommendations.

Currently, ShopBot is only linked to eBay’s US site, so product recommendations likely won’t be relevant for customers in Australia. The company also cautions that ShopBot has a lot to learn.

“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 AI,” eBay’s chief product officer RJ Pittman wrote in a blog post on the company’s website. The bot will get smarter the more people use it.

eBay plans to integrate ShopBot with other popular messaging platforms in future, but chose to debut it on Facebook Messenger. Shoppers can join the beta test through the eBay website or by searching for eBay ShopBot in Facebook Messenger.

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