EBay becomes latest platform to join the normally brand-focused chatbot movement

EBay is jumping on the latest trend of using Facebook?s Messenger application for shopping support with the release of ShopBot, its new chatbot.

ShopBot is housed on Facebook Messenger and will help customers sort through the large amount of posts on eBay to find the thing they are looking for. EBay represents another platform to join in on the chatbot trend, in addition to the more common use of the technology by brands.

"With our beta, we are testing and learning what commerce looks like within messaging platforms," said Abby Smith, senior director of corporate communications at eBay. "Going out early with our eBay ShopBot gives us the ability to gain insights and to continue to evolve our bot while creating new and personalized experiences, based on how consumers are shopping.

"We are finding new avenues of growth, going where the users spend their time, and providing great shopping experiences that are truly personalized and find the best item for you. We think that messaging platforms are very interesting marketing channels, especially for eBay ShopBot."

Say hello
EBay is in a state of transition. The online auctioning and ecommerce platform is making major changes internally to its core selling platform.

But in addition to these internal changes, eBay is also turning its attention to more consumer-focused additions to its business model, many of which are powered by artificial intelligence.

Starting today, eBay is debuting the beta version of its new chatbot, ShopBot. The bot is designed to help customers sort through the site?s listings and find the product they are searching for.

EBay boasts one billion listings at any given time, a mammoth amount that can be intimidating for any customer. With that volume of product, a standard search engine can be an underwhelming tool in helping customers find what they want.

The ecommerce platform is relying on this new AI-enhanced technology to be a smarter assistant to consumers who are looking for specific products and may not be serviced fully from a standard keyword search bar.

Offline and in-store, consumers can rely on help from in-person store associates to find them specific products or describe their needs in abstract or not easily typable ways. Online retailers do not have that luxury, meaning that places such as eBay need to rely on other means to help their customers find what they need.

During the bot?s beta test, shoppers can text, talk or send photos of what they are looking for to the bot. ShopBot will ask them questions to clarify what exactly it is they are looking for.

EBay claims that the bot uses machine learning capabilities to improve its searching and sorting functions the more it is used, encouraging users to come back and use the bot again and again for a better experience each time.

Platforms and brands
While chatbots have mainly been the domain of brands looking to market their products or sell them directly, the technology has also seen increasing use from platforms that help connect customers to a variety of brands.

Compare the use of chatbots from a brand such as Starbucks, which used the technology to host a Pumpkin Spice Latte chatbot that spoke to customers in character (see story), with the broader approach of a platform such as Retale, whose chatbot helps connect customers with nearby brands and deals (see story).

The two approaches signal different priorities.

Starbucks uses the tech to market its products and improve its relationship with consumers. Retale uses the same tech as a platform for many retailers to make direct transactional connections with consumers.

EBay falls firmly in the second camp. As the beta goes on, eBay expects its chat bot will get better and better at helping customers find what they need.

"We believe that the future of commerce is distributed as users are spending more of their time in fewer apps, with a majority of their time spent in messaging and social platforms," Ms. Smith said. "With ShopBot, we are going where the users are and creating new avenues for growth and testing new capabilities and platforms."