Looking for a new phone? eBay ShopBot can help

The new ShopBot will be available on Facebook Messenger starting Tuesday to help folks find electronics, clothes or sporting goods.

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The ShopBot is available in a public beta, so don't expect it to work smoothly quite yet.

Photo by eBay

The 1 billion listings for clothes, cars and cameras on eBay can often feel like one big mess.

As part of the online bazaar's effort to make it easier to find the stuff you want, eBay on Tuesday unveiled a beta version of an artificial-intelligence-powered shopping assistant on Facebook Messenger. People will be able to text, talk or take a picture to tell the eBay ShopBot what they want, and the ShopBot can ask questions back to narrow down the search.

"Our vision is to make shopping with eBay as easy as talking to a friend," RJ Pittman, eBay's chief product officer, said in a blog post Tuesday.

The ShopBot is just the start of what eBay described as its "new commerce experience" that uses AI, cloud computing and human judgment to help people more easily sort through its huge selection. eBay has been working to shed its reputation as a yard sale for antiques and collectibles. It would rather be seen as a place to find solid deals and hidden treasures, and the ShopBot may help.

The ShopBot's first home will be Facebook Messenger, but eBay plans to bring it to more messaging platforms. The bot will join a handful of other retailer chatbots already on Messenger, including one from 1-800-Flowers.

eBay warned, though, that its bot is still just learning. The company decided to release an early version of ShopBot so the software can train itself faster using thousands of queries from the public. The eBay bot is available only in the US for now and can search only through a limited selection of eBay's listings, including electronics, sporting goods, fashion and toys.

To meet eBay ShopBot, go to shopbot.ebay.com or search for eBay ShopBot in Messenger.

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