eBay ChatGPT AI Feature Fails, Removed Days After Launch

Liz Morton
Liz Morton


UPDATE 7-1-23

eBay appears to have finally gotten those pesky bugs worked out as the ChatGPT AI description generator has been reintroduced to the Android app, with the surrounding service details (button label, undo button, banner explaining the optional generative model, etc.) functioning properly.

UPDATE 6-15-23

We finally have an explanation from eBay about the sudden removal of the ChatGPT description generator in the Android app.

The community post appears to be from an eBay employee, though their account is not labeled as such.

With the ID BWoodruff and the degree of knowledge displayed, it's likely that may be VP Seller Experience Engineering Bryan Woodruff, which might explain the slightly defensive tone of the post - after all, this AI tool would be one of his babies.

Re: ChatGPT AI Description Generator Now Available In eBay App
Actually, we started rolling out an update to sellers in a limited ramp which is typical of all companies today when introducing new features. This also coincided with a new update from the Android and iOS clients. However, a bug in the client logic exposed the experience without the surrounding…

BWoodruff said:

Actually, we started rolling out an update to sellers in a limited ramp which is typical of all companies today when introducing new features. This also coincided with a new update from the Android and iOS clients.

However, a bug in the client logic exposed the experience without the surrounding service details (button label, undo button, banner explaining the optional generative model, etc.) which created a broken user experience and confusion when found by sellers who had just download/installed the Android update.

They were not intended to see these changes at this point in time. It was a bug. This did not affect the iOS experience.

The unintended consequence of this bug was exposing a broken experience for a feature that we have been actively collecting feedback from our sellers. The actual feedback has been very positive and this feature has been very effective for many sellers. Depending on your listing category & details (title & aspects), your mileage may vary.

So rather than it being a premature launch that wasn't ready for primetime, it was a bug-ridden launch that wasn't properly tested before deployment, which caused a broken, confusing user experience...and that's supposed to be better?

UPDATE 6-1-23

eBay community staff finally provided an explanation for why this feature was suddenly removed just days after launch, giving a very vague "in the coming months" timeline for reintroducing it to the listing flow.

Re: ChatGPT AI Description Generator Now Available In eBay App
wrote: Sorry, I’m confused. This is a button that appears in the description portion of the eBay listing tool when you are editing a listing. While in the eBay app. So not the Chat GPT playground site. Be nice if eBay would give some info, here. Thank you for raising this issue. And I apologiz…

Responding to a seller who complained about their description being overwritten, Kayomi@ebay said:

Thank you for raising this issue. And I apologize for the experience you had.

We are constantly testing new features to simplify your selling experience, and last week we inadvertently reverted to an older version of the listing flow -- it didn’t have the “undo button” and some other important features that significantly improve the Generative AI item description experience.

The issue was resolved on the 25th, and the improved experience is being rolled out to sellers over the coming months.

Basically this was a very premature launch that didn't have even the most basic functionality ready and it's going to take months for the "real" product to rollout.

Hopefully Wall Street will see through the smoke and mirrors when this is inevitably presented as AI progress in the Q2 earnings report.

UPDATE: Interestingly, Kayomi has now edited her post to remove any reference to the "undo button" or an older version.

"Openness, honesty, respect & doing business with integrity drives our success." ~ eBay CEO Jamie Iannone.

Sorry Jamie, still not falling for the smoke and mirrors here.

eBay's ChatGPT powered listing creation enhancement appears to be dead on arrival as the not ready for prime time feature is pulled from production just days after launching.

The AI description generator was added to the mobile listing flow earlier this week, allowing sellers to have ChatGPT write their item descriptions at the tap of a button.

eBay Integrates ChatGPT Into Listing Flow To Help Sellers Create Descriptions
CEO Jamie Iannone reveals eBay is integrating ChatGPT AI into listing flow to help sellers create item descriptions.

Seller opinion was mostly lukewarm to not positive, with some frustrated there was no warning it would override any information they had already manually entered.

ChatGPT AI Description Generator Now Available In eBay App
You may need to update to the most recent version, but the ChatGPT powered AI description generator is now live in the Android and iOS eBay apps. In the listing flow, tap the AI description icon in the bottom right and the new description will automatically populate. I haven’t played around with…

Distinctly unimpressed. Those descriptions are just blather, adding little to no factual content, especially nothing to help avoid Not As Described returns from buyers who might even read the description in full, but will learn nothing further about the specific item in that listing.

In addition, if all sellers of the same item are hitting up ChatGPT for their descriptions instead of actually writing the descriptions themselves, how many different descriptions is it going to generate for the same item each time? It will just be the same glop over and over, served up by every seller of the same item.

Hard pass.

Please note!!! You cannot undo this if you click it after you have already written your description! I didn't know what it was and clicked out of curiosity.

It rewrote my entire description based only on the title and item specifics. I lost everything: the condition description, the details about the decoration, the likely maker, which I did not put in the title or item details because it's just a guess, & more. It didn't even get the measurements right!

Maybe this works for sneakers or electronics, but for my item the description was ludicrous!!!

Now, just days after launch, it appears eBay has quietly removed the AI description feature from the app listing flow.

It no longer shows the icon when creating new listings or revising old ones and alarmingly, drafts that were created using the tool now have an error message saying the description contains formatting not supported by the app.

It's not entirely clear why eBay has pulled the plug so quickly on this nascent feature - while the quality of the results was debatable, it at least seemed to function on a basic technical level.

Concurrently, though possibly coincidentally, sellers have experienced multiple extremely disruptive technical issues on the site this week as well.

An inventory system snafu has randomly increased quantities and relisted sold items causing mass out of stock cancellations.

eBay Glitch Increases Quantities & Relists Sold Items 5-27-23
Sellers report eBay’s systems have gone berserk, randomly increasing inventory quantities & relisting sold items.

While sellers impacted by that glitch are busy selling items they don't have in stock, another glitch is preventing others from creating or revising listings for items they do have in stock.

eBay Sellers Unable To Create, Revise Or Sell Similar Listings 5-27-23
eBay sellers unable to create, revise or sell similar as listing form buffers & fails to load.

There may not be a direct connection between the ChatGPT integration and these glitches, but it's possible eBay may have disabled the AI description tool as part of the troubleshooting process or it may have been removed for completely unrelated reasons...unfortunately eBay's lack of transparency around all of these issues simply leaves sellers groping in the dark for explanations.

Regardless of the reason, the timing of eBay's launch and quick, quiet removal of the AI powered listing tool reeks of a desperate attempt to assuage investor concerns.

AI is the current buzzword du jour across the entire tech industry and investors are demanding to know how companies are leveraging this new technology to increase revenue.

CEO Jamie Iannone announced eBay's ChatGPT plans on the Q1 2023 earnings call in April.

eBay is also well positioned to benefit from recent leaps forward in generative AI capabilities. We are in the process of integrating the ChatGPT API into our core listing flow and will soon launch a beta release of a plug-in that enables sellers to automatically generate text for their item description based on known product attributes.

And CFO Steve Priest told investors and analysts that AI will be a "significant unlock" for the company at the J.P. Morgan Global Technology, Media and Communications Conference just days before this apparently premature launch.

And so we really believe that this AI unlock will be very significant for us. Jamie talked about some of this in his prepared comments on the last earnings call. We are integrating ChatGPT into the listing flow as we go forward. So again, we see this as a huge, huge opportunity for us at eBay and we're excited about the prospects as continuing to lean in with the opportunities that AI provides for us.

eBay is clearly feeling the pressure to join the "big kids" using AI and it appears they may have rushed to be able to say it happened in Q2 even though it was obviously not ready.

Is Iannone just hoping investors won't see through the smoke and mirrors of his supposed "tech-led reimagination" of the platform?

The last time the technical state of the site was this bad, then CEO Devin Wenig faced tough questions about it at eBay Open in 2018.

There've been a lot of site glitches recently on eBay. What are you guys doing to get rid of them?
Here's the simple answer - unacceptable, unacceptable. And we're making a lot of changes. When you make changes there are times that things happen but that's not an excuse and it's not ok with me and this summer in particular there have been a number of issues that directly impacted sellers like people not being able to see their view counts and a few other things and it's just not ok.

I'm extremely proud of a lot of things we've done, I'm not proud of that and in fact I hold my team accountable and it's not important, it's an internal matter but, we made changes to people and teams because shipping product that isn't ready is not ok. It's not ok with me and it's not ok with my team.

So the short answer is it's not like we don't get it. We are making a lot of changes and I want to make those changes, we need to make those changes, but making changes and then having to back up and fix things is not cool and I totally get it. Most of the issues from this summer have now been remedied but I was pissed off.

A few months later, activist investor Elliott Management put a very public shot across the bow, calling out management failures at the company, including technical problems and operational challenges (emphasis mine).

Elliott Management Sends Letter to Board of Directors of eBay
Elliott Management Sends Letter to Board of Directors of eBay, Outlines Unique Value-Creation Opportunity, Path to $55-$63 per Share

...As an online marketplace that provides a critical forum for millions of buyers and sellers, the efficient and effective functioning of the platform is paramount. Unfortunately, eBay has been plagued by technical problems and operational challenges for years...

...Fast forward to recent years and the platform still faces issues. In 2018, eBay sellers complained about countless technical issues including incorrect billing, lost photos, warped titles and many others. On this month’s end of year podcast, eBay senior management apologized to sellers and admitted, “This is a 2018 that we don’t want to repeat on a number of levels. And the technology issues that we have had with the platform is top of the list.”

We agree: The consistent reliability of the platform is central to eBay’s success, and management must do all that it takes to achieve it.

While innovative endeavors in new pursuits like machine learning and augmented reality are promising future technologies, eBay’s publicly touted initiatives in these areas will add little value if the core platform continues to have critical functionality failures.

Iannone has been at the helm for over 3 years now and those words are just as true today as they were when Elliott published them for the world to see in 2019.

AI may be a promising future technology, but it will add little value to eBay users if the core infrastructure continues to fail and current management is clearly not doing all that it takes to achieve consistent reliability of the platform.

If the board is not willing to take matters into their own hands to make drastic changes soon, they may once again find themselves in the crosshairs of investors who are growing weary of the continued incompetence and misexecution.


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Liz Morton is a seasoned ecommerce pro with 17 years of online marketplace sales experience, providing commentary, analysis & news about eBay, Etsy, Amazon, Shopify & more at Value Added Resource!