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INSIDE EBAY'S 'STORE OF YOU': Executive Alyssa Steele shares how eBay's new merchandising feature aims to personalize users' home shopping experience.

In a bricks-and-clicks retail marketplace with infinite buying possibilities, one-size-fits-all-merchandising no longer cuts it for today's choice-rich shoppers.

Against that backdrop, eBay has launched what it calls "a new evolution" of its shopping experience centered on personalization and crafting a homepage for each individual shopper.

Alyssa Steele-vice president of merchandising, home and garden, for eBay North America-spoke with HFN about how the online marketplace expects its "Store of You" initiative to enhance and differentiate its home assortment, a category targeted for expansion via its $9.5 billion U.S. business.

Home has been integral to eBay's product expansion strategy, CEO Devin Wenig said during your recent earnings call. How is that playing out?

Our home business is an important part of our focus on expanding our product catalog to meet our customers' needs. In the past year, we've seen the addition of a wide-range of brands such as Dyson, Yeti, Nest, Cuisinart, Gourmia and Char-Broil as well as emerging categories like smart home.

What differentiates eBay's home assortment in today's crowded retail landscape?

Our home and garden category offers an incredibly wide variety of products, including unique one-of-a kind pieces that cannot be found anywhere else-we have everything from new, used, refurbished, etc. We often have those everyday consumer sellers who may list a unique antique or maybe it's a seller in the U.K. who is listing an item for all of eBay's global buyers to take advantage of.

As a result, we're helping consumers find their version of perfect by combining the power of structured data, artificial intelligence and insights to group products together and present them in ways people shop-including how they shop for products in the home. By organizing, cataloging, curating our vast inventory of products for the home we can deliver persistent, personalized experiences for consumers that other retailers can't.

What market forces and customer-experience demands are driving eBay's personalization initiatives?

Today's consumers, particularly Millennial, not only prefer but also expect their shopping experience will be personalized to fit their unique interests and needs. Designers, retailers or editors no longer solely dictate trends-and we realize that personalization is the key to adapting to this new world of shopping.

What are the key ways eBay's personalization initiatives are reflected in the home business?

We want to look at who our shopper is holistically and make connections between the life that our customers live and what they buy. Gone are the days when your online shopping experience isn't your own. As a diverse marketplace, eBay is agnostic about what we sell--as long as it's exactly what you want, or are excited to discover. With our new personalization experience, shoppers can browse and even be inspired by a store built just for them. This means that they can find something for their home that they didn't even know they were looking for because we are able to deeply understand the look and aesthetic they enjoy. Of note, eBay has also released innovations such as Shop the Room, featured on our eBay Collective homepage, which provides shoppable images and helps provide inspiration to buyers.

How is eBay's 'Store of You' initiative--combining human and algorithmic curation on a massive scale to create a unique homepage for each shopper--playing out in home?

Almost all retailers push recommendations to you based on what they want you to buy, however eBay focuses on what real people are actually interested in. Our latest personalization feature, called Interests, serves our customers recommendations based on their passions and personal interests, sourced from a survey they participate in and over 250 possible Interest themes.

With Interests, we've combined our selection of over 1 .1 billion product listings with technology and human curation to create a first-of-its-kind, exclusive experience for each of our 171 million users. The algorithms enable our platform to quickly and effectively capture and process a buyer's set of lifestyle preferences and shopping habits and make connections between our customers' lives and what they buy. This is then applied to our humanly curated Interests themes. We have multiple themes related to the home with eBay Interests such as home improvement, modern, man cave, midcentury, nautical, among others, which helps our shoppers easily find items that fit within the existing style of their homes.

What are the technologies catalyzing personalization? How are they customizing the experience of shopping for home goods?

The algorithmic curation found in our Interests feature was built on eBay's structured data initiative--a massive technology undertaking the company has been on for the past few years to catalogue its 1.1 billion listings of inventory on the platform--and advanced search capabilities. eBay's restructuring has allowed us to pursue further innovation in emerging platforms such as Al, voice and image technology, virtual and augmented reality, and distributed commerce, which are all technologies reshaping our commerce experience.

A key example of our investment in computer vision is our search tools, called Image Search and Find it on eBay. We're seeing buyers use images to shop for the three main categories where pictures are inherently more powerful than words to find the perfect item: fashion, home goods, and collectibles. Imagine if you wanted to find very specific piece of furniture and you're not sure exactly what to call it. With Image Search you can just snap a photo of that item in the world around you, or with Find it on eBay, search by dropping a link to an image that inspires you on your favorite blog into the search bar. Our new Al enabled tools help you quickly find the things you love.

How is the home mix being personalized to Millennials?

Millennials want and expect that their shopping experience will be personalized to their unique interests and needs. With eBay Interests, we have created a one-stop shop that's customized for any buyer to see not only exactly what they want, but deeply relevant choices that reflect who they are and what they're truly in to. Millennial shoppers aspire to surround themselves with things that express who they are and what they love, and eBay has always been the perfect destination to shop like an individual because of our depth and breadth of selection.

What's the biggest competitive challenge eBay faces in the current home retailing marketplace, and how is it staring that down?

Not so much of a challenge, but an opportunity is how technology is [affecting] the home retail landscape... eBay has invested heavily in Al to help build an experience that enables shoppers to get a more immersive experience.

How has home been performing?

While I can't share specifics, I can tell you that home and garden is a key piece of our business. Not only does eBay have millions of goods across home fashion and home improvement, our eBay Collective is an elevated shopping experience to provide interior designers and consumers with curated inventory of furniture, antiques, contemporary design and fine art. The bespoke experience has been specifically developed for eBay's 1 71 million active buyers looking for sought-after products from trusted dealers and galleries.

Looking ahead, how do you envision the personalization efforts driving eBay's home business?

Our goal with personalization is to transform eBay from a marketplace for the mission shopper to a place people go to explore, browse and get excited by items that complement their lifestyle. Using the power of Al to augment and enhance the personalization experience over time, we hope that consumers will not only find home products they're looking for but also will turn to eBay for home decor and design inspiration.

By Barbara Thau

Caption: Alyssa Sleek, vice president, merchandising, eBay

Caption: eBay's latest personalization feature, called Interests, serves customers product recommendations based on their passions and personal interests, sourced from a survey in which they participate. There are more than 250 possible Interest themes.

Please Note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.
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Title Annotation:omnichannel retailing
Author:Thau, Barbara
Publication:HFN Home Furnishings News
Article Type:Interview
Date:Jul 1, 2018
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