The Science Behind a Great Deal

RJ Pittman, Chief Product Officer

Smart Guidance for eBay ShopBot harnesses deep learning and natural language understanding to surface the best shopping values.

Making it easier for shoppers to find what they are looking for has been a long-standing challenge in the e-commerce industry. Online inventory and product catalogues are growing exponentially as commerce websites and apps become the preferred way to shop. This has made it increasingly difficult to help people find what they are looking for.

At eBay, we are breaking that ineffective cycle. We created eBay ShopBot to harness the power of deep learning and natural language understanding to simplify online shopping and help our customers discover great finds and great deals. eBay ShopBot is a smart personal shopper that understands our marketplace of over 1.1 billion items for sale. It does the hard work of organizing the best choices for customers by simply asking them what they want. Today, it is available on Facebook Messenger and, over time,we plan to add ShopBot to other popular platforms.

Customers love having a personal shopping assistant that understands simple chat interactions and helps them discover a world of amazing selection.

Smart Guidance is a breakthrough in search technology

Smart Guidance takes a fundamentally new approach to the online shopping journey. We are reinventing the traditional keyword search paradigm with something more helpful. Instead of tasking our customers with finding the best deals, most popular, or pre-owned options within a long list of search results, we are doing all of that for them. At the same time, we are doing this to address three key consumer desires: 

  • Convenience. Shoppers want to spend less time searching and describing what they need
  • Confidence. They want the best recommendations — with the research and comparison done for them to ensure they get the best price and quality without the heavy lifting
  • Current. People want to keep up with the latest trends. They want to know what the other cool kids are buying!

Let’s take a look at some real world examples of how Smart Guidance works:

Best Value and Trendy

Suppose you are traveling to Maui to escape the winter and you want a stylish pair of aviator sunglasses. Prior to Smart Guidance, the eBay site would have shown you nine items to choose from, and then allowed you to ask for more options. Contrast that experience with shopping for sunglasses in a physical store. The store’s sales assistant might point out sunglasses that are on sale, or which pairs are “hot” this season. That’s the inspiration behind the top two categories eBay ShopBot now provides: “Best Value” and “Trendy.”


Sunglasses found under the Best Value category are all about saving you money while giving you the best quality. We have built a model that generates a “dealiness” score for each item. The score is based on how much the item is selling for on other sites, the discount over manufacturer’s suggested retail price, and how well the item is selling on eBay. We combine the amount of savings available with the wisdom of the crowd to identify the best overall products.

With the Trendy category, we elevate products that a traditional search engine would never be able to show you. To identify these products, we look at pertinent data points, such as:

  • Are more people starting to search for this item?
  • Is it a name-brand product?
  • Is it trending in key cities? For example, that might be the case for certain winter sports gear in Salt Lake City.

These types of questions help us determine if one item is more ideal than another.


Pre-owned and Top Match

If you’re thinking about getting active in a new sport but don’t want to spend a lot of money on new gear, we have created a Pre-owned category that features budget-conscious alternatives. Many of our user studies show that consumers prefer to look only at new items, which is why our primary buckets are new products. However, because saving money is a recurring theme, we are now highlighting some of the most cost-effective options to expand shoppers’ options.


“Top Match” is the closest to eBay ShopBot’s original results algorithm, showing the results that are most relevant to shoppers’ requests. Smart Guidance leverages eBay’s structured data to surface the best items for shoppers. It combines that data with Artificial Intelligence that is aware of people’s interests, and the world’s interests paving the way for rich new shopping experiences.

In the future, Smart Guidance will become even more personal with features such as showing items only in your size, from brands you love. We will be able to do this by using data on people’s past preferences to make to make informed current selections and customize the feature to each individual. Stay tuned! 


Our initial analysis shows an increase in daily engagement. Engagement is defined as tapping on an item in the Messenger carousel to the item page.

As always, there’s more in store for eBay ShopBot this year. We plan to build on our early momentum and continue to invest in the science of commerce. Our goal is to deliver a powerful and personalized shopping experience to our customers. Thanks to our partners, our powerful new commerce platform, and most importantly our active community of eBay shoppers, we are iterating quickly and making big strides.

Count on us to continue sharing our vision, new features and under the hood discussions on the science and technology behind our work.

And if you haven’t tried eBay ShopBot on Messenger, dive in now and experience Smart Guidance with your first shopping journey. If doesn’t truly save you time and money, let us know on our Facebook page!


Editor's Note: This post appeared originally on Medium.