Facebook messenger had zero bots in February 2016. By November it had over 34,000.
We already use bots to get an uber, to book a flight or to check the weather. In China, selling through messaging apps is already massively successful. Brands answer customer questions through conversations, minimising the need for searching and reducing return rates.
In the West, AI chat bots had a baptism of fire back in 2014 with Microsoft’s Tay. Designed to learn from other’s conversations and speech patterns on Twitter, online troublemakers managed to manipulate it into tweeting racist slurs and hate speech. Microsoft quickly removed the bot, but many criticised their lack of foresight, for not including content filters.
Since then, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have all been racing to build systems that not only recognise, but truly understand natural language. Whoever can put technology that understands natural conversation not only in your living room, but in your pocket too, can become the hub of everything you do online.
This fall, Microsoft released a paper claiming that its speech recognition has reached parity with humans. Though the research comes with caveats, it represents the current state of the art, at least among publicly available work.
Debuting today on Facebook messenger is eBay’s very own shop bot, designed to help customers find the perfect gifts for their loved ones.
eBay’s shop bot is powered by AI to help it better understand the context of a shopper’s needs, and it has machine learning capabilities that will be improved over time. Like a Furby. The more people use the bot, the better it will get.
One particularly interesting feature of this bot is that you can show it a picture of a product you like, and it will find you similar products from eBay’s massive inventory. I very briefly tested this feature, by finding a picture of a product I liked on Pinterest, and asking eBay shop bot to find me ones like it.
The bot asked questions to narrow down the search, and used good conversational language. However, there were times when it obviously lost the thread. Asking me if I would prefer unisex costumes or men’s t shirts. I have no clue how it got to men’s t shirts from cat ears umbrella.
Going away from the shop bot, and instead just going into the eBay app and searching “cat ears umbrella” these were the first results:
Immediately closer. On this occasion, it was easier to just type the search. But this app is not designed as an exact match product finder. Shop Bot is more a way to get suggestions on alternative ideas for gifts. And in that respect, it performs well.
This is only the first day of launch and it will certainly be interesting to see how the app develops and improves with use.
This is certainly a positive development for sellers. Shop bot will introduce new customers to products they may have never considered searching for. As Shop Bot develops and learns, it should be able to anticipate your tastes and suggest not just one product you will love, but a whole range of items to compliment it. The sales potential is huge.
If you use the eBay shop bot, please tweet us and let us know how it worked for you @frooition.