Retailers   //   June 21, 2019

Ebay steps up personalization efforts to improve search, ads and experience

Ebay is pushing ahead on making its marketplace more personalized as customers shop not just by selection, but convenience.

On Thursday, the company announced it was releasing 10 new features that use artificial intelligence and machine learning to learn and then adapt to customer preferences in search, product suggestions and ads, as well as on the homepage and through customer service.

Ebay’s simultaneously trying to improve the experience for guests — users that haven’t signed up for Ebay accounts, in an effort to attract more customers — and longtime eBay shoppers through the new tools. To target new users, it’s building personalized recommendations into their searches based on past search history and shopping behavior through Facebook and Google login, and tailoring search results for unaccustomed Ebay shoppers by prioritizing items available to purchase now (rather than bid). For frequent shoppers, the platform has rolled out options to get alerts and updates on an item’s availability they’re likely to want to bid on, as well as a “buy again” option.

In search and ads, Ebay’s added a visual search function as well as search recommendations, and personalized promoted listings, based on how similar they are to what customers have recently bought or viewed.

The goal, according to Ebay’s vp of buyer experience Bradford Shellhammer, is to help inspire purchases and aid search and discovery, while making it easier to shop on Ebay. The updates come at a time — and after a year of testing — when Ebay has been dwarfed by Amazon, which has grown its third-party marketplace by 52% over the past year, to a $160 billion business. In 2018, Ebay’s U.S. marketplace grew by 3.4% to $38 billion. In addition to improving the customer experience with technology, Ebay has also rolled out new seller-side tools to keep and attract sellers, particularly from jumping ship to Amazon. In March, it started letting sellers target buyers who were tracking an item’s price by making them a private offer.

“We have all this data, why not give our sellers more power to be able to negotiate and give them the tools to succeed,” Ebay rep Melissa Ojeda told Modern Retail at the time.

Ebay is hoping that improving sellers’ ability to close deals as well as personalizing the customer experience will raise conversions overall. Personalization is a point of obsession for retailers that want to put their shopper data to work and increase customer loyalty by removing barriers in the online shopping experience. Companies like Stitch Fix rely on personalization to pull off their fully customized business models, while other online marketplaces like Wayfair are building out new customer tools that feed more data points to the company, which is then transferred back into personalization functions.

As other specialty retailers hope to connect better with customers one-on-one, personalization is of increasing importance for mass marketplaces like Ebay and Amazon. And while Amazon’s product results are notoriously unwieldy to wade through, the company has been able to capitalize on that paradox of choice by using algorithms to assign an Amazon’s Choice tag on best-performing products, and promote sponsored product and brand results in its feed. Amazon product recommendations may be redundant, but they help guide users through the marketplace to compare products and find new ones. And by sheer volume, Amazon’s personalization standards are what Ebay has to meet in order to compete.

“Because Amazon sees so much of the customer’s wallet, they have the biggest data set,” said Jason Goldberg, chief commerce strategy officer at Publicis. “They use that to make relevant recommendations, and a heck of a lot of people buy stuff from those recommendations.”

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