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“Data has been the four-letter word that marketers love and hate,” says Suzy Deering, chief marketing officer for eBay North America. “The reality is that we’ve always had data. It’s more about what we’ve been able to do with it.”

And for eBay, it’s unlocked access to the unobtainium of the retail giant’s heart: to make a consumer’s shopping experience more delightful, whether it’s getting in and getting out with that quick-sell item, establishing a transaction, or browsing. AI has become the key to understanding that behavior to help ensure that they’re serving up the best experience.

They’re able to leverage in-depth browsing behavior, but have also incorporated an “Interests” feature, in which consumers can granularly update their preferences, which creates a wealth of data to feed the machine-learned algorithms.

That creates value for the consumer, Deering explains, because AI delivers on a very specific interest, calculating for and pulling the best and most relevant inventory, and categorizing in a smarter way — doing the work for the consumer by hunting down exactly the right item for them.

“It’s the beauty of understanding,” she says. “I give it a little bit of information, the machine picks up and understands from an interest perspective how to search across our inventory and ensure we’re offering that up in a much more compelling fashion. It constantly gets smarter as we go along.”

AI is also unlocking a ton of other opportunity from a marketing standpoint, she says, allowing the company to customize consumer interactions in more relevant, personalized ways, from email to social platforms. It leverages the intersections of customer browsing behavior, customer interests, seasonality, and even where a customer is in the engagement funnel to personalize interactions on the fly.

“It’s not showing up in a creepy way, it’s showing up in an added-value way — like being able to smile when you welcome them,” she says. “That’s where you start to have a stronger relationship out of the gate, versus it just being a cold experience. And then you’re able to move from there into a deeper relationship, encouraging their interests, even as they evolve.”

Artificial intelligence has become a cornerstone of eBay’s new customer strategy as well, she says. The mountain of data on their current customers is the key to understanding what might pique the interest of new customers. They’re able to layer in third-party data to their first-party data to surface lookalikes, go find net new customers to connect with out of the gate in a more relevant manner, and create value right from the start on eBay properties and other channels, including display, social, and digital video.

“We’re able to use that data to know and understand what audiences we want to connect with and create a relationship with,” she says. “It’s now unlocking so much more opportunity because we can get down to a much more relevant connecting point.”

There’s a pitfall however, she says — how far is too far? How do you make sure that you’re being able to scale effectively and efficiently? When they first started rolling this out at scale, her team identified 150 viable segments, or customer base interests, that they potentially could go after, which Deering recognized as potentially unmanageable, so she pulled her team back.

Even if AI can do its job, other technology has to catch up, she explains. How do you ensure that you’re dynamically serving up the most relevant creative? How are you dynamically developing that creative? Getting that wrong means automatically turning a customer experience sour.

But AI, paired with a human component, is going to continue to unlock a ton of value for retail, if appropriately deployed, she says. It’s deepened and expanded the two-way exchange of the customer-retailer relationship, helping them take the eBay experience to where their consumer already is.

“I think when AI can make us more a fabric of people’s lives, that’s where it gets magical — that’s where it’s going to change the industry,” she says. “It’ll have massive impact to relevance, make us smarter about the relationships we’re building with our customers, and the types of communications we start to put out. It redefines every aspect of the infrastructure that we’re currently using today, not just for eBay, but in the industry.”

To learn more about how massive retailers like Sprint, Sears, and eBay are using AI to upend the retail industry, change the engagement game, and more, don’t miss this VB Live event.

Don’t miss out!

Register now for free.

Attend this webinar and learn:

  • How AI helps retailers curate content, offers, and experiences to revolutionize customer acquisition and engagement
  • How companies can leverage AI to uncover new markets
  • The role of AI in data-powered email marketing (e.g. empowered segmentation), voice, and visual search
  • The future of AI in retail: What’s next?


  • Suzy Deering, Chief Marketing Officer for the Americas, eBay
  • Rob Roy, Chief Digital Officer, Sprint
  • Eugene Feygin, SEO Manager, Sears
  • Jaimy Szymanski, Industry Analyst & Founding Partner, Kaleido Insights
  • Rachael Brownell, Moderator, VentureBeat

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