Your Personal Shopper On eBay? Artificial Intelligence

The future of online shopping is visual recognition.

Your Personal Shopper On eBay? Artificial Intelligence
[Photo: Bench Accounting via Unsplash]

Part of the thrill of buying vintage design is in hunting down great finds. That process loses its appeal online, where buyers face an overwhelming quantity of listings, a lack of consistency in how pieces are identified, and, occasionally, outright mislabeling. This week, eBay announced Collective, a new section of the site that uses artificial intelligence along with in-house curation to make it easier for shoppers to sift through the company’s 1 billion-plus listings and get their design fix.


EBay describes Collective as a “bespoke experience” and features furniture, antiques, contemporary design, and fine art from 21 hand-picked dealers; product collections assembled with an editorial eye; and straightforward Pinterest-like pages of tables, seating, lamps, case goods, and more.

[Image: via Ebay]

But the potential gamechanger is the use of artificial intelligence in a “Get the Look” feature that scans listings to find products that have similar traits to objects in room vignettes. Users hover over annotated (and shoppable) photographs to find close cousins to what’s in the shot. In a posh living room adorned with ornate antiques, hovering over a crystal chandelier brought up a $2,700 Louis XV-style item and a $42,000 Baccarat showpiece. A silver tea set leads to a $49,000 Tiffany kettle. Another photo of a library links a black console to a 1940s piece for $14,500. (Looks like eBay thinks shoppers using this feature have deep pockets.)

The news comes on the heels of the online auction site’s acquisition of visual search engine Corrigon. Right now eBay only has a couple photos with this feature. Depending on how the marketplace uses the technology, it can help users find exactly what they’re looking for when search terms like “modern chandelier with gold accents” turn up empty.

The strength and success of the feature will depend on how sophisticated the search algorithm is. So far, AI’s track record as a whole hasn’t been stellar. But if eBay cracks the discoverability code, it might stave off would-be competitors from smaller curated marketplaces.

In the meantime, how about this $195,000 antique bed frame of your dreams?

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.