Sellers are sharing their thoughts in the eBay community, including a helpful pro tip for Jamie about that remote control listing.
"So, I literally just hold up my phone to it, and it figures out what this remote control is, it figures out what stereos it's compatible with, it writes the description for this remote control, and I listed on the platform. It says to price it at $30. I priced it at $30. And guess what, a week-and-a-half later, this remote control sells for $30. That would have absolutely been in the trash without this technology."
And a week-and-a-half after that, the buyer returns it because the Power, Volume Up and Volume Down buttons are worn out, the usual failure mode for old remotes with those carbon-pad control buttons. Jamie makes no mention of actually testing it to see if it worked. Since he no longer has the stereo, it's likely that he did not. At least the buyer will have the Money Back Guarantee to fall back on.
Realistically, though, the bigger issue as I see it is that it's simply enabling lazy sellers to get even lazier with their listings, boosting the odds of an Unpleasant Buyer Experience™ caused by sellers listing stuff without any clear idea of the item's true condition, simply assuming that the description made up by the AI interface is the God's Honest Truth about their widget.
Can't wait to see the AI generated listing for an item of clothing displayed on a patterned rug with the seller's feet showing at the bottom of the frame, or a flower pot for sale sitting in all it's vintage glory on top of the toilet tank (yes, I saw that)
Yikes! Can't wait for the "Magical Returns" this should create.
As long as we have a choice, I won't be using it for my category.
What happens when the CEO of eBay gets a return request?
eBay CEO Jamie Iannone and CFO Steve Priest continue their magical investor conference tour this week with a stop at Goldman Sachs Communacopia & Technology Conference 2023 to discuss the evolution of their strategy for the company and new AI tools on the horizon.
As with eBay's most recent quarterly earnings report, "magical" was the buzzword of the day, but does the technical reality of eBay today really match the magical AI powered future Iannone promises is just around the corner?
After starting the presentation with a video clip, host Eric Sheridan asked Jamie to give a rundown on the evolution of his strategic vision for eBay, with a specific focus on AI capability they are building into the platform.
So based on the clip we saw and something in your answer there, AI, obviously, is a very different place thematically now than it was a year ago when we had this conversation. We didn't even have it on our team's list a year ago as a research team.
But talk about AI as both consumer-facing and as well of a way in which you can drive productivity gains and efficiency gains internally inside the company, and how you're thinking about that technology more broadly?
Jamie's answer revealed an interesting tool which is currently in an internal employee only beta test that will allow users to simply take a picture of an item and have AI build a complete listing.
So, the example that you saw there, which we call the magical listing flow, that went from like a concept to idea in a matter of like two months -- sorry, from concept to being a working version of it in two months...
...So, what excites me about eBay is the explosion of innovation that's happening and the canvas with which we have to operate on this new AI technology. With the breadth of categories that we have, with the breadth of countries that we have, with 130 million buyers, with the level of data that we have, think about 28 years of pricing history of image data, of item description, it is a massive canvas with which we can innovate.
So, to do things now, like, let's find the perfect dress that matches this dtress that I've owned that I no longer want to have, we can do really trivially, where before, if you had to do that with metadata, et cetera, it was complex.
The version we showed there is a product that's currently an employee beta, which is, how do I figure out what a product is and do all the hard work so the seller doesn't have to do anything?
And I'll just tell you a story. We're cleaning up my garage with my wife, and she finds this old remote control from a stereo I had 25 years ago. And she's like, "Okay, throw this out. Like, Jamie, we don't have the stereo. It's been 25 years." And I'm like, "Okay, better idea, let me sell it on eBay."
So, I literally just hold up my phone to it, and it figures out what this remote control is, it figures out what stereos it's compatible with, it writes the description for this remote control, and I listed on the platform. It says to price it at $30. I priced it at $30. And guess what, a week-and-a-half later, this remote control sells for $30. That would have absolutely been in the trash without this technology.
eBay also released more about this Magical Listing tool in a company blog today.
That technology sounds like it could be a real game changer - if they can pull it off.
However, the gap between that magical vision and the current reality on eBay may be wider than Jamie would like to admit.
The AI description generator eBay introduced a few months ago did not have a smooth launch - in fact they had to temporarily pull it from the app due to a bug which caused "unintended consequences that exposed a broken experience."
Even once the bugs were fixed and the AI description generator was re-enabled, the extremely basic functionality paled in comparison to what Shopify has done with a shopping assistant for buyers and a commerce assistant for merchants, or even what much smaller marketplace Mercari has done.
Given the pace at which generative AI has infiltrated everything, at this point it's simply table stakes for any large tech company to have integrated it in some way.
eBay has done the obligatory bare minimum with the description generator, but it is far from anything truly magical or innovative.
What about eBay's image recognition capabilities? That will be an important part of any tool that they claim can use AI to create an entire listing just from a picture.
eBay has had search by image functionality in the mobile app since 2017, but had to remove the feature for several months in 2021 because there were "inconsistencies" in results.
When they finally re-enabled search by image 3 months later, the results were even less useful than before and the feature often struggled to identify truly relevant or similar items in search.
eBay also built a "scan to list" tool in 2021 for collectible trading card games like Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! but for some reason were never able to expand the tool to include sports trading cards or other collectible card games.
More recently eBay has been testing a "find visually similar" feature on the View Item page that supposedly uses AI image recognition to suggest similar items to the buyer.
However, the results show this tool still needs a lot of work - while the general category may be similar to what the buyer was looking at, the actual visual similarity is clearly questionable.
eBay has also recently tried to make some AI machine learning enhancements to the image background removal tool.
The background removal tool was first introduced as part of then-Head of Seller Experience Harry Temkin's Unified Listing Experience - a technical "innovation" that was years behind competitors and lacked functionality that other free background removal tools available at the time offered.
This newest iteration of the background remover does seem to work better in automatic mode for many images, however eBay inexplicably removed the paintbrush and eraser tools that allowed sellers to fine tune the results, which has rendered the tool practically useless in cases where the AI doesn't get it quite right.
Strangely, current VP Seller Experience Xiaodi Zhang seems to be trying to erase (pun intended) the history of her predecessor's efforts.
EBay also is piloting an AI tool that will remove the background of a seller’s image and replace it with a white image so the product stands out. While a number of eBay sellers have a professional setup to merchandise their product and have robust images, many do not, Zhang says. The tool’s goal is to remove clutter from a home seller’s photo, and help those sellers have a clean photo listing, Zhang says.
“Sellers tell us the background removal tool can make a huge impact on conversion by creating a clearer image of their product,” eBay wrote in a release announcing this tool.
Why is there is no mention that the background removal tool has been available for years or of the many seller complaints about this newest AI enhanced version that lacks basic fine tuning capability?
TechCrunch reporter Kyle Wiggers has also expressed skepticism about whether eBay can really pull off this magical feat, highlighting some of the less than magical experiences actual users have had with eBay's AI efforts so far.
But longtime sellers on eBay don’t appear to be pleased with the platform’s AI direction.
The official eBay community forum and subreddits frequented by sellers are filling up with complaints about the poor quality of eBay’s description generator, which has been available in limited tests — with one user on the forum, vssoutlet, claiming that eBay’s AI-generated text is misleading and, in some cases, downright untruthful. Vssoutlet points to a listing for a Pentax SLR camera, for which eBay’s AI generated a description saying the camera came with a lens kit — an obvious error.
On the subreddit /r/Flipping, a Reddit community dedicated to the art of flipping high-profile merch, an eBay seller going by the name IJustWondering writes that the eBay description generator frequently “re-states the item specifics and the title” and merely “adds some fluff.” Another user, Hardcorelogic, recounts an experience similar vssoutlet’s, finding that the AI-written descriptions “contain mistakes” and “[are] too long.”
“By the time I got done fixing [one of the descriptions] and shortening it, I could have written it myself,” Hardcorelogic writes.
This writer worries, too, about the photo-recognizing component of eBay’s new generative feature. Given that some of the best computer vision algorithms today are so plagued with bias that they can’t reliably distinguish Black people from gorillas, I don’t have high hopes for eBay’s take.
That aside, eBay sellers appear to be taking issue not only with generative AI’s tendency to spout mistruths and hallucinate — eBay is well aware of this, as the new listing-generating tool has a disclaimer warning that the text might not be completely accurate — but with the use cases that eBay envisions for it.
Sellers point out that eBay’s AI-generated descriptions aren’t clear, concise or direct enough for most buyers. The description generator tends to be repetitive and verbose, they claim — even for basic items. And the generated text doesn’t list the individual characteristics of items, including their flaws.
eBay certainly isn’t the only marketplace embracing AI as a way to solve a funnel problem (i.e. convincing more sellers, which pay revenue-generating selling fees, to list items — and to make its pages more discoverable on search engines). Shopify recently introduced AI-generated product descriptions, while Amazon rolled out AI-generated summaries of reviews.
The Information reports that Amazon is also piloting AI that’ll allow merchants to generate titles, descriptions and bullet points for select products. Unlike eBay’s newly-launched tool, Amazon’s will work not from photos but from a list of keywords, and “strictly regulate” the content allowed in the generated product listings.
But eBay’s roadmap is arguably among the more aggressive. And sellers — rightfully so, I’d argue — are beginning to question the wisdom of that strategy.
While the mockups of the Magic Lister in that demo video look great, as usual the devil will be in the details - especially when it comes to more obscure, vintage, or one of a kind items rather than easily identifiable mass produced consumer goods with UPC or ISBN codes.
Given historical execution on Iannone's now 3+ years long "tech-led reimagination of the platform", eBay will likely need all their powers of prestidigitation to pull a truly innovative AI rabbit out of the hat for this Magic Listing Tool.