eBay CEO Devin Wenig has been talking about the importance of Artificial Intelligence - or AI for short. But using technology to make assumptions about what people are searching for doesn't always work well for the company, and there has been a lot of pushback against "smart" algorithms ever since eBay made "Best Match" the default order of search results.
On Amazon, people want things fast - you could call them "lazy" shoppers - they want to quickly locate a product, check reviews, and check out.
On eBay, many shoppers hunt for products, whether it's from a desire to save money, the thrill of the hunt, or through necessity (items that aren't available elsewhere). Those types of shoppers don't mind investing time in the search process and can get quite frustrated at having eBay serving up what it thinks they want (sometimes based on their past behavior) without the ability to see all items that match their queries.
How many times have you looked at search results on eBay and realized there must be more relevant listings than what eBay is showing you?
A better area for applying AI is identifying bad buyers. How well does eBay keep suspended sellers from creating new accounts, for example?
But eBay's interests aren't entirely aligned with that of sellers when it comes to bad buyers. There's little downside to eBay when buyers abuse the returns process, for example. eBay gets rewarded for sales (through its Final Value commission fees), and if buyers unjustly file claims, it isn't eBay that has to pay for return shipping and risk getting back a broken or phantom return.
Since eBay doesn't own the inventory on its site, imagine if it did a better job aligning its interests to sellers? What if eBay had to pay sellers a small fee - even if it were only a penny - any time a buyer made an unreasonable or fraudulent claim?
Wouldn't eBay work harder to make sure that buyers paid attention before pressing the buy button and behaved themselves throughout the transaction? Those pennies would add up, and it might provide eBay employees an incentive to reduce bad selling experiences.
The challenge would be building a system that could measure such instances accurately - and that's where eBay could turn to AI.