How eBay Uses Machine Learning to Expand Beyond Its Successful Auction Model and Help Connect Sellers to Buyers
7.10.17 Ecommerce

How eBay Uses Machine Learning to Expand Beyond Its Successful Auction Model and Help Connect Sellers to Buyers

By: Jon McDonald

The Crunch: As one of the world’s most powerful selling platforms, eBay has grown from online auction pioneer into a vast marketplace full of merchants and customers. Over the years, consumer expectations have shifted and shoppers now desire even more choice, faster transactions, and personalization. That is why eBay constantly looks at trends to see how it can evolve to meet a customer’s needs. The company is turning to data science — with predictive intelligence and machine learning — to personalize content for consumers, and open up more opportunities for small businesses to promote their items. And with eBay’s new guaranteed delivery service and its authentication program, the company continues to inspire confidence and trust in both merchants and buyers.

As an eBay user since the late 1990s, I’ve seen the platform evolve a lot over the years. In the beginning, the site’s innovative auction format was new and exhilarating — giving you the chance to win the item you wanted or suffer the heartache of being outbid at the last second.

The auctions have become iconic and many celebrities hold charity auctions on eBay, raising millions of dollars for worthy causes. But eBay did much more than just put the online auction on the map, the company found a unique way to foster a connection between buyer and seller based on mutual trust and satisfaction.

That connection — not simply auctions — is at the core of eBay’s mission. So as consumer expectations change, eBay has shifted its focus to help merchants meet them.

Screenshot of eBay homepage

While the company began with online auctions, eBay has continued to grow and evolve as buyer and seller dynamics shift.

“There are many trends that go into how we evolve the eBay platform,” said Shervin Moghaddam, Senior Director of Product with eBay Shopping Experience. “One trend we try to stay ahead of is change in shopper expectation because, as the industry continues to evolve, shoppers expect more and more services and features.”

Today, shoppers expect a faster, more immediate experience, which is why merchants on eBay have scaled back auctions in favor of fixed-price listings that can be purchased at any time. Whatever buyers desire, eBay wants to help merchants meet their needs so the platform is always improving the user experience.

That includes getting to know buyers and sellers better by using data science to predict what they want and when they want it, and making searches as personalized as possible.

Built to be a Marketplace Where Consumers Find Anything They Want

If you ask a friend or family member where you can find an obscure product of any kind, there is a good chance you will hear, “You can probably find it on eBay.” That is exactly what the company wants to provide, and with 1.1 billion listings live on the site, it is a global marketplace where nearly anything can be easily found.

“One of the key elements of eBay is the breadth of selection. Our sellers are offering an enormous number of products with a vast breadth of values,” Shervin told us. “For example, you can get the newest iPhone the day it comes out, or, if you can’t afford that one, you can get the last generation from eBay as well.”

Screenshot of eBay product pages

Not only can you find the current models of many products on eBay, but you’ll also find past iterations which may cost less.

The site is also a resource for buyers to research the products they are interested in. Not only can they see what products are selling for now — or what they were selling for in the past through the completed listings search feature — eBay is investing in product reviews so consumers have all the information they need to make a decision.

And that commitment to the consumer journey is a big reason why so many individual sellers and retailers choose eBay as their partner in e-commerce.

Retailers Partner with eBay for Extended Reach and Affordable AI

The ease of a shopping experience on eBay isn’t just coincidence, it takes a lot of work behind the scenes through analytics and AI. Many retailers use eBay to help them sell products, but they also use the platform to get their items in front of the right customers through advanced machine learning and predictive technologies.

“There are many retailers who don’t have the resources to take advantage of AI and machine learning to inspire and personalize,” Shervin said. “But they are able to partner with us in order to take advantage of eBay’s expertise in these technologies to reach consumers.”

Personalized homepages show users a feed of recommended items based on their preferences, meaning the eBay homepage can be unique for each user — and put more sellers’ items in front of potential buyers.

“We have been focusing on gathering more structured information about products being sold by our sellers to help improve our predictive experiences These new data-driven experiences are something we are extremely excited about.” — Shervin Moghaddam, Senior Director of Product with eBay Shopping Experience

That customization is just one in a series of pages — including browse pages, product pages, and reviews — eBay has rolled out that are driven by consumer data. The company also uses data around seller listings to enhance the personalization of every page the shopper sees.

“We have been focusing on gathering more structured information about products being sold by our sellers to help improve our experiences,” Shervin said. “These new data-driven experiences are something we are extremely excited about.”

Outside of AI, eBay is also innovating new features to increase buyer confidence and choice.

New Guaranteed Delivery and Authentication Give Buyers Confidence

Shipping options through eBay have always been reliable, although not always within an ideal time frame. Sometimes, consumers are more motivated to buy if they are assured they will receive an order quickly, which is why the company is introducing guaranteed delivery as an option on many of its items.

“Coming later this year, eBay buyers will see a guaranteed delivery date of 3 days or less on millions of eligible listings,” Shervin said. “Sellers who qualify will have the option to guarantee delivery by a specified date. No subscription fees. No complicated processes.”

Staying ahead of shopper expectation isn’t always easy — especially when new services and features can take time to design and implement — but eBay is doing just that for both consumers and its platform’s sellers. Another way it is advancing its mission is by building more confidence and trust into the process through authentication.

Screenshot of eBay guaranteed delivery

With the option of guaranteed delivery, eBay is giving sellers even more ways to satisfy their customers’ needs.

“Also later this year we’ll be launching eBay Authenticate, a program designed to boost consumer confidence, especially for higher-end transactions,” Shervin told us. “We understand that some shoppers may be hesitant to purchase high-value items online. This new service is designed to both ease buyer concerns and help our sellers acquire top dollar for their items.”

There has always been a feedback system to encourage good faith and accountability, but the authentication program will add another layer of protection and peace of mind for buyers and sellers of expensive items.

And those are just some of the features eBay is launching this year; the future holds many more innovations, and excitement is building within eBay about what’s next.

Bold Technological Ambitions Have eBay Excited About the Future

I don’t bid on many eBay auctions anymore, but I still make plenty of purchases from the site. They are just usually of the “Buy It Now” variety. Over the years, I have had a front-row seat to the improvements eBay has made in its evolution to align with the shopper experience.

The future will surely hold many more advancements, features, and services, but Shervin isn’t tipping eBay’s hand as to what those will be just yet.

Collage of Shervin Moghaddam and eBay San Jose campus

Shervin Moghaddam, Senior Director of Product with eBay Shopping Experience, has been with the company for 13 years.

“There are a lot of things I am excited about right now, but I can’t share them all,” Shervin said. “But I am really excited about our future. I’ve been at eBay for 13 years and have seen many changes in the company, industry, and platform. Recently we have gone really bold with our ambition internally and started to show that externally.”

Part of that boldness is on display in eBay’s new “Fill your Cart with Color” campaign, encouraging shoppers to buy what inspires them. The initiative also shows eBay’s commitment to being a marketplace where the world shops for anything and everything.

Because, as any friend might tell you, no matter what you are searching for, chances are, you can find it on eBay.