Interview: How eBay Is Targeting Consumers Everywhere They Click
As e-commerce continues to evolve, retailers like eBay must find innovative and inspired ways to connect with and attract consumers to their brand
Direct-to-consumer retail is on the rise, as today’s brands can no longer expect consumers to come to them—they have to find their customers where they already are, which increasingly means on digital interfaces.
For businesses like eBay, keeping up with potential consumers means implementing the latest in AI to engage an audience using conversational commerce, developing newer and better apps, and launching AR and VR capabilities. For a podcast on direct-to-consumer retail, PSFK founder Piers Fawkes spoke to Dave Lippman, vice president of design and executive creative director at eBay, to find out how the e-commerce retailer is innovating to more directly target consumers and build brand rapport with them.
Piers: Can you give me some idea about the trends and market forces that you are following, and that eBay is responding to currently?
Dave: One of the big trends that eBay has been following and leading is AI and conversational commerce. We’ve been utilizing different platforms around conversational commerce to create new experiences for our customers that bring to life a new way to shop and experience eBay. In late 2016, we launched what we call eBay ShopBot on Facebook Messenger, which is a shopping experience in a conversational format. We’re using AI and NLU to understand customer’s contact and serve up a personalized experience to pull together great recommendations out of eBay’s 1.1-billion-item marketplace. I think we were one of the first e-commerce, large-retail companies to be on that platform and use true AI to learn from our customers.
We launched that in 2016. We’re continuing to experiment with it. There are a lot of interesting things to learn, from a UX perspective, but also just what the value is for customers.
We’ve also been doing some really interesting experiments on Google Assistant. We launched that towards the end of last year. We’re utilizing the same AI and NLU from ShopBot but giving our customers the ability to shop on Google Home and the corresponding Google Assistant mobile app. There’s a lot of interesting nuances like surface switching—going from a voice conversation to an interface conversation. There’s a lot of interesting hand-offs going back and forth between the two.
You just gave two examples of working with other technology partners to provide retail elsewhere. Can you comment on that?
The way that we describe it internally is through the notion of distributed commerce. For us, one of the big insights over the past couple years is that we need to move beyond the “make it and they will come” mindset. Build a website, build apps and drive marketing to you. What we’re seeing, especially within the newer generation, is that we need to show up everywhere our customers are. One of the reasons we originally dove into Facebook Messenger was to do that very thing.
How do we connect the billion items that we have and the billion customers that are on Facebook Messenger in a way that’s an experience they’re already used to, but showing up in a creative way and adding some new value to that existing experience? A big part of our initial thinking and our initial push was to be really focused on showing up in more places and adding value to our customers where we are.
You’re developing tools like chat. Is there a way for retailers to use these tools without having to build them themselves?
The way that it works for us is our sellers and our retailers don’t have to do anything different than they did when they listed an item or built a storefront. The sellers don’t have to do anything. All they have to do is worry about creating great listings for products that people want. We’re the intermediary. We’re the managed marketplace that helps buyers find those items. When a seller lists an item, they’re not doing a single thing to indicate that they want to be featured on ShopBot. It’s just another acquisition channel for them to drive volume and velocity. We’re doing all of the work on the buyer side to understand their intent, what they’re looking for, what they’re interested in, what their past experiences are and to pull up the best experience. That winds up being a great way for our sellers to get more velocity and to show up in more places without having to do any work.
Sounds good. What’s next in terms of customer experience? Where are you hoping to innovate and what are the areas you’re going to focus on?
There’ll be continued and increased investment around AI. The biggest places for that that you’ll see come to life over the next year will be computer vision. We’ve already got a bunch of computer vision experiences out in the wild. I can talk about those a little bit, but there’ll be more and more of those. There’ll be a bunch of work that we do around AI for personalization, search and dynamic pricing for sellers.
On the conversational commerce side of things, what you can expect to see in the coming months is an integration of our chat experiences into eBay core products. Right now, all of our conversational commerce experiences are out in the wild. They’re out in Facebook Messenger. They’re in Google Assistant. You can expect to see our apps start utilizing that kind of interface and technology in the products themselves to simplify the experience.
Computer vision is computers looking through the lens of a camera and understanding what it’s seeing?
Totally. You can think about it like image search—understanding what is in an image. The computer is able to parse what’s in an image and then make recommendations on it. You can actually use our existing experience around computer vision and image search on ShopBot and Google Assistant as well as eBay core apps. When you do a search there’s an opportunity to snap a photo. With eBay Image Search, we will pull up relevant listings that are matching based on a whole bunch of different criteria. Find It On eBay is another great feature that allows you to upload an image and share it with eBay from a social network or even from your computer. It will do image recognition matching and then provide you with a series of listings.
That’s very exciting. Anything else that we should know about?
We’re very much into AR, VR and mixed reality. We see those as platforms that are going to emerge in a really big way and be viable platforms. There’ll be some announcements in the coming weeks about how we’re using AR, VR and mixed reality for sellers to help simplify their experience.
Thank you so much, Dave.
eBay is just one of many retailers that is using the latest technology to more creatively and effectively target consumers. For more information on what tactics companies are using to optimize their business and connect with potential customers, see PSFK’s podcast.