Tech Transformers

You will soon be able to search eBay using a photo or social media web link

Key Points
  • eBay announces two new features called Image Search and Find it On eBay.
  • The features use computer vision, image recognition and machine learning to find products based on pictures taken on smartphones or shared from a website.
  • The company hopes it will help consumers search for what they want by using pictures instead of words.
The headquarters of eBay in San Jose, California.
Getty Images

Online marketplace eBay has announced new ways for shoppers to search through its catalogue by combining artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning with photos and social media.

Two new features called Image Search and Find it On eBay will be available from the Fall on mobile devices.

Image Search will allow users to take a photo or use a saved image of an item they want to buy and eBay's app will search for listings that are visually similar.

By combining this with machine learning, the feature's image recognition will improve over time and be able to find better and more accurate results.

"By applying machine learning technology, eBay can deliver a fast and reliable shopping experience backed by one of the world's largest commerce data sets," said Mohan Patt, vice president of buyer experience at eBay, in a press release on Wednesday.

The other feature is Find It On eBay. This allows users on any website or social media platform such as Pinterest to share the URL web link with eBay and the app will search for listings of the product in the image.

A demonstration of how Find It On eBay will work on a smartphone

With a reported 1.1 billion listings available at any given time, the ecommerce company hopes applying artificial intelligence and machine learning technology will speed up the process of finding the items that consumers want to buy. eBay says these technologies are already embedded across its marketplace and making its product catalog more searchable.

"Moments of shopping inspiration can come at any time, whether you're walking down the street or browsing your social media feed," said Patt.

"At eBay, we're focused on creating new complementary technology that helps our millions of shoppers easily find the things they love at the best value."

The company has been working on image recognition for some time. In October 2011, former eBay CEO John Donahoe told reporters the company planned to roll-out image-recognition software for mobile by the end of the year, according to an article by TechCrunch. Last year, the company acquired image-recognition company Corrigon in order to use its visual search technology.

"Corrigon's technology and expertise will help buyers find the best results when shopping on eBay through experiences that were not possible a year ago, before our investments in structured data," said Amit Menipaz, vice president and general manager of structured data at eBay, in a press release from October.

In 2016, eBay also acquired Sweden-based Expertmaker and Israel-based SalesPredict to support its AI, machine learning and data analytics ability as part of structured data initiative.

The new search features come a week after eBay disappointed markets by forecasting its adjusted profits this quarter could fall below analysts' estimates. Year to date, shares in eBay are up 22 percent.