Ina Steiner EcommerceBytes Blog
News and insight focusing on ecommerce.
by Ina Steiner, Editor of EcommerceBytes.com
Wed Mar 13 2019 21:27:27

Can Etsy Fix Search with Machine Learning?

By: Ina Steiner

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Etsy plans to improve search by leveraging Machine Learning technology and by personalizing search results, according to its Chief Technology Officer Mike Fisher. But that could make sellers nervous based on their experiences with similar attempts made by other marketplaces. (Mention the word "Cassini" to an eBay seller and watch their reaction.)

During Etsy's recent Investor Day presentation, the executive talked about the current state of search and initiatives that are under way.

One of the most complex challenges for Etsy engineering is creating best-in-class search, Fisher said. Search is more difficult for Etsy than all the other etailers because many of the things that make Etsy so special makes it extremely complex: there are no SKUs, there's no catalog, items are one of a kind, and they're often customized. "That means when they're gone, they're really gone," he said. "We don't get the chance to sell the same shirt 500 or 5,000 times."

"Sellers label and tag items how they want to, how they want to describe the items. Combined with the fact there are 60 million items in inventory makes it a more interesting tech challenge."

He also said sellers try to game the system - for example, he said, by putting the name of a holiday in listing titles. He used the example of a seller who added the term "Valentine's Day" to the title of a listing for a pillow, and in an accompanying slide, he showed a listing for a pillow with the title, "Colorful Earth Tone Pillow, 24x24, Valentines Day Gift, Rustic Pillow, Desert Trend Pillow" to drive home his point.

Etsy builds its search indexes using only the title and tags. Descriptions currently are too unstructured - "we allow sellers to put whatever they want in their descriptions, they can tell their story, how they built it, where they sourced it, anything they want."

And image quality is currently too varied - "until recently, image recognition was extremely difficult," Fisher explained.

After retrieving all the items based on the title and the tags, Etsy then use predictive conversion rates.

Etsy takes search terms from the previous several weeks and analyzes them to see how shoppers interacted with the results (did the shopper click on them, add to cart, favorite them, etc.), then it builds Machine Learning models that can rearrange the top search results, in real time, so that the first page shows the most relevant item.

"The first page of search results generates 83% of the search purchases. It's critically important to get the first few listings right. So moving a relevant listing from page 5 onto page 1 is important for our business," he said.

Fisher believes there are many other factors Etsy can use in addition to titles and tags. For example, he believes Etsy will be able to leverage Machine Learning to help it understand the information in images and to pull useful information from the unstructured data in descriptions.

He said there are dozens of other factors Etsy could be using, including seller rating, shipping times, and price. That sounds a lot like eBay's Best Match default search order, which has been panned by many sellers.

He then discussed plans to personalize search results. "Relevance is all relative. The results should look different depending on who's searching."

If any of Fisher's goals sound familiar, it's because eBay faced similar challenges with unstructured data. When Devin Wenig replaced John Donahoe as CEO of eBay in 2015, he launched a Structured Data Initiative and promised it would turn around eBay's performance. Like his predecessor's Cassini project, it hasn't been a magic elixir.



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by: thriftyone This user has validated their user name.

Wed Mar 13 22:58:49 2019

NO....simply no....he needs to go....

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This user has validated their user name. by: RKTOYS

Wed Mar 13 23:15:26 2019

Machine learning, AI, blockchain, they're all empty hype.  What you really need is plain old deterministic behavior.  We have this same stupidity in government IT.  It never dawns on these fools to just cross check other systems or compare history for simple statistics.  They just think they can throw buzzwords and H1Bs at everything to magic out a result.

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by: Bubbles This user has validated their user name.

Thu Mar 14 00:29:14 2019

NOOOOOOOOOOOO! Did this CEO not learn from eBay mistakes? Cassini has been an absolute disaster for sellers. Everything should be visible for all buyers 24/7, not what Etsy deems appropriate.

Perminate Link for Can Etsy Fix Search with Machine Learning?   Can Etsy Fix Search with Machine Learning?

by: Silver Ice King This user has validated their user name.

Thu Mar 14 01:09:27 2019

This guy has been following Ebays mistakes ever since he became the CEO.  The BOD wanted somebody who could make them just like Ebay rather than listen to all the critics who were proclaiming that Etsy was doing things the right way and avoiding all the pitfalls that Ebay fell into.  So they bring this reject in and all he has done is follow Ebays lead every step of the way and once he makes this move sales will fall off the cliff overnight, just as it has with Ebay.

Ebay even went out an bought the premiere company in the AI field and failed so what does this guy whose programmers can't even design a program that doesn't  suddenly hiccup and steal their customers money on the Friday of a Long Holiday weekend which also just happened to be Payday.  I bet if a forensic accountant was given access to the books they would probably find that Etsy could not cover their payroll that weekend for some reason and this is how it was taken care of.  

I feel sorry for those selling on Etsy as this clown is going to take Etsy down the exact same slide that Wenig has taken Ebay down.  If this is implemented it will kill sales and do to Etsy exactly what has been done to Ebay, thus eliminating the biggest competitor to Ebay.  I guess they had to do something to take the focus off of their theft of customers money for that long weekend.  I wonder if they ever did finally pay all of them back, not credit their account as Ebay does, and even pay the interest that these Sellers were charged or the bank fees for Overdrafts due to their ineptitude?

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by: Garcia This user has validated their user name.

Thu Mar 14 01:40:10 2019

I am afraid that Etsy's CEO is not going to take Etsy down.  In fact he has built the company beyond anyone's imagination and made stockholders rich.  Sellers do not have to like anything he does, it is the stockholders that have to be appeased and Silverman has done a great job of making them happy.

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by: sasikat9 This user has validated their user name.

Thu Mar 14 06:42:21 2019

Etsy is FleaBags sister. Don't these sites ever have an original idea instead of following the leader but changing the name. HA HA

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This user has validated their user name. by: Rexford

Thu Mar 14 06:52:32 2019

That is exactly what ruined eBay, and the CEO is headed down the same path.

I have no doubt that it is orchestrated solely for Etsy's profits.   Why can't these companies understand if they keep search simple, and show folks what they are ACTUALLY looking for instead of pushing products that they don't want on them, their marketplace will thrive.

Note this sentence in Ina's article:  "During Etsy's recent Investor Day presentation, the executive talked about the current state of search and initiatives that are under way."   INVESTOR DAY as opposed to CUSTOMERS DAY.    Wenig, Jr.   Just another CEO dancing for Wall Street.  Will say anything to get that stock price up.

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by: Tiffee Jasso This user has validated their user name.

Thu Mar 14 06:57:53 2019

I doubt the stockholders will be happy when sellers' income drops about 50%. With the expected raises in postage for Asian sellers, and the growing sentiment of US buyers realizing they are killing their own jobs by buying direct from China, the CEOs won't be able to keep their market value inflated.  

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This user has validated their user name. by: Rexford

Thu Mar 14 07:02:29 2019

Garcia says "Sellers do not have to like anything he does, it is the stockholders that have to be appeased "

Seriously?   The stockholders don't sell anything on this platform.  Etsy has no inventory.  Etsy can not exist without their sellers.   If sellers are not successful they will take a hike.  How will that work out for the stockholders?

Garcia, you have just given the best example of why businesses fail due to their never ending greed. I look at the shortsightedness of focusing on Wall Street as no more than a get rich quick scheme.     A company that focuses on stockholders as opposed to the success of their customers and the growth of their marketplace, especially a company that owns no inventory, will fail.

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by: hawk This user has validated their user name.

Thu Mar 14 07:22:29 2019

these special people are extremely smart , and they get extremely rich. the big problem is they then get so greedy and so arrogant their morals mean nothing to them anymore. only money and arrogance. then a great thing goes down the toilet.

to h**l with wall street,investors, and the high and mighty that's already rich from theft. sometimes you have to hear the not so rich , not so smart , and not so lucky , to make things stay working like they should and everyone makes some money. how much is enough? it's those small working people that got them there in the first place.

Perminate Link for Can Etsy Fix Search with Machine Learning?   Can Etsy Fix Search with Machine Learning?

by: Flying Childers This user has validated their user name.

Thu Mar 14 08:09:14 2019

Great comments from everyone and I especially like what Silver Ice King said.

Etsy search has been broken FOREVER, just ask any serious seller.  This guy Fisher that they're  now touting as the savior, is just another hack who has no idea what he's doing.  In fact, my guess is that at least half of the tech people who work for Etsy are clueless about their jobs.  How are all the constant break downs even remotely acceptable?

Etsy just spent millions of dollars on a rotten search engine/ machine learning/ AI whatever they call it, that made everything 1000 times worse.  The truth is that no matter how much you pay for promoted listings, renewals, copying, advertising, promotion, it does not matter.

It has been documented here time and time again, that there really is no way to game the system.  Ask any seller who once had a thriving shop only to have the lights turned off for no apparent reason, and then lose all their sales and customers.

Your listings will only be seen when the robots decide it's their turn.  Etsy used to be a great place to sell handmade and vintage but their greed has gotten the best of them.  Many of their actions are completely illegal- like the recent theft of millions of dollars from unwitting sellers who woke up to find their bank accounts and credit cards had been plundered.

Yet there have been no consequences for Etsy.  No Attorney General investigation, no SEC complaints.  Nothing.  Once again the "little guys" are getting screwed, and there's not ONE agency in any level of our big, fat, bloated GOVERNMENT BUREAUCRACY that is doing anything to help us.

The vast majority of us are taxpayers and citizens who pay a high price for the privilege of living in a state like NY where Etsy is headquartered.  It is disgusting that the powers that be refuse to do something about a corporation that is fleecing its customers so badly.  So much for multi million dollar "Consumer Protection Agencies".  

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by: Disgusted This user has validated their user name.

Thu Mar 14 11:16:09 2019

Last December sales were way way down.  Jan and Feb were no better.  I thought they were hiding the listings. Playing the same game as ebay.  Does anyone at Etsy actually have a brain?   Manipulated search stopped ebay and I guess they want to do the same for Etsy.
What is the problem of simply showing what they type in the search box instead of showing something they THINK (which they don't and that is the problem) the buyer is looking for.

Perminate Link for Can Etsy Fix Search with Machine Learning?   Can Etsy Fix Search with Machine Learning?

by: mcposty This user has validated their user name.

Thu Mar 14 11:41:05 2019

Machine learning has proven to be incompetent across the board. Whenever it is introduced, it causes problems, because a computer only knows logic, not common sense or context.

What can help search is an intelligent leader who understands what buyers want..that is..they want what they type into search, not what you think they want or want them to want. Then they can delegate that simple task to a half way decent programmer.

It speaks volumes that all these sites did way better before they toyed with search algorithms.





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This user has validated their user name. by: iheartjacksparrow

Thu Mar 14 14:11:01 2019

I feel sorry for all the Etsy sellers who moved there from eBay to escape all the garbage that was going on there.

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by: FIVEPERCENT This user has validated their user name.

Thu Mar 14 15:58:37 2019

I was one of those who left Ebay to sell on Etsy and have been there since 2009.  Frankly, I am appalled at what has happened to the site since Silverman and his crew have got their noses in the trough.   As well as fleecing many US sellers by making unauthorised debits from their bank accounts, they have also shafted most non-US sellers by overcharging them on fees, which they are still doing and have yet to pay back.  They have broken their own terms of use and yet NOTHING is being done to stop them.  Is there no end to their greed?

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by: hawk This user has validated their user name.

Thu Mar 14 17:35:24 2019

i caught etsy overcharging me on fees. i emailed the help system days ago , and have yet to get any answer. they clipped me another 10.00 on overcharged fees , and they are to cowardly and greedy to even answer me. all i got was a canned speech on where to look at their fees.

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This user has validated their user name. by: FidoMaster
Web Site

Thu Mar 14 19:28:33 2019

Too cute: "The Fisher Brothers", eBay and Etsy's CTO's! Which one did mom like best??

Likewise eBay and Etsy are so desperate to appear relevant with the forced cramming of "Machine Learning" and "Artificial Intelligence" at every press release opportunity.

Dear eBay & Etsy: Truly impressive AI and ML are cars and robo-dogs that drive and run autonomously and learn how to get better own their own.

Or programs like AlphaZero that in just a couple hours teach themselves without book moves, human intervention or additional programming to exceed the ELO rating of the worlds dominant GM.

Slapping "AI" and "ML" on things that aren't really anything more than what would have been referred to as a formula, calculation, heuristic, or algorithm a few years ago in order to impress media and Wall St, (and serve as a recruiting crutch to entice talent that eyeing Google) isn't going to make these things intelligent or learning, it's just artificial marketing hype.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Life During Wartime

Thu Mar 14 22:32:38 2019

I think Etsy wants to use AI because fixing their problem with Search results is, in my view, close to impossible.  Most of the issues with unhelpful Search results are seller-caused.  Whenever I search for something specific on Etsy, less than 20% of the items returned actually have anything to do with my search terms.  And it's not the fault of Etsy's Search code -- the phrase I Searched is actually in the titles and tags (both!) of these irrelevant items.

Sellers are adding popular keyword phrases to their tags and titles in attempt to get eyes on their listings.  While a small percentage of sellers were doing this routinely a decade ago, keyword misuse is no longer against the rules on Etsy so the problem has exploded.  It is possible that more than half of all Etsy listings include misuse of keywords.  

I just saw a recent thread in the Etsy Forums about the article above (without a link back here), mocking Silverman for saying a misuse of "valentines day" is an attempt to "game the system".  While the comment of one seller doesn't tell the whole story about what is happening with keyword misuse, it's apparent that some  sellers don't consider doing that a problem.  

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This user has validated their user name. by: The End

Fri Mar 15 04:21:04 2019

This is the most STUPID thing.
It's just a "Make Work" scheme to keep the talentless occupied.

Perminate Link for Can Etsy Fix Search with Machine Learning?   Can Etsy Fix Search with Machine Learning?

This user has validated their user name. by: NoMoreEbay

Fri Mar 15 11:29:11 2019

Etsy "We wanna be ebay"

ebay "We wanna be Amazon"

Amazon "We are G-d"

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