eBay rolls out a tool that generates product listings from photos

eBay is rolling out a new AI tool for marketplace sellers that can generate a product listing from a single photo.

Available in the eBay app for iOS to start, with the Android app to follow in the coming weeks, the tool can automatically write a title and description based on a photo, as well as information including a product release date, and suggest a category, subcategory, list price and shipping cost.

The tool builds on eBay's other efforts to inject AI into the selling process, including AI-generated product catalog descriptions and a background removal tool for listing photos.

"The 'photo-to-listing' tool was built internally, and the team will use the listing data generated to 'train' the model internally. eBay terms and conditions state that we have a license to use listing data," an eBay spokesperson told TechCrunch via email. "At eBay, we're using AI to reduce friction across the platform and transform the process of listing. With this tool, it makes the seller's job of listing items incredibly painless, easy, and even fun."

In May, Adam Ireland, head of eBay's U.S. business, said in a blog post that eBay plans to roll out a plugin that'll let sellers auto-generate item descriptions based on content already available across the web -- powered by an OpenAI language model. In that same blog post, Ireland telegraphed the release of the tool launching today.

eBay says that the tool is aimed at addressing the "cold start" issue often experienced by first-time sellers on its platform. Not uncommonly, new sellers are overwhelmed by the amount of info they need to enter to create a competitive listing, eBay claims -- so what better way to overcome that than by removing the need to enter info altogether?

eBay generative AI
eBay generative AI

eBay's tool converts photos to listings. Image Credits: eBay

"There’s no need to work through a cold start with AI: as soon as you’re ready to sell, your listing is ready to post," eBay writes in a blog post. "We’ve been hard at work on the next version of a new, magical listing experience, which uses AI to analyze, research and extrapolate information from a small amount of data provided by the seller."

But longtime sellers on eBay don't appear to be pleased with the platform's AI direction.

The official eBay community forum and subreddits frequented by sellers are filling up with complaints about the poor quality of eBay's description generator, which has been available in limited tests -- with one user on the forum, vssoutlet, claiming that eBay's AI-generated text is misleading and, in some cases, downright untruthful. Vssoutlet points to a listing for a Pentax SLR camera, for which eBay's AI generated a description saying the camera came with a lens kit -- an obvious error.

On the subreddit /r/Flipping, a Reddit community dedicated to the art of flipping high-profile merch, an eBay seller going by the name IJustWondering writes that the eBay description generator frequently "re-states the item specifics and the title" and merely "adds some fluff." Another user, Hardcorelogic, recounts an experience similar to vssoutlet's, finding that the AI-written descriptions "contain mistakes" and "[are] too long."

"By the time I got done fixing [one of the descriptions] and shortening it, I could have written it myself," Hardcorelogic writes.

This writer worries, too, about the photo-recognizing component of eBay's new generative feature. Given that some of the best computer vision algorithms today are so plagued with bias that they can't reliably distinguish Black people from gorillas, I don't have high hopes for eBay's take.

That aside, eBay sellers appear to be taking issue not only with generative AI's tendency to spout mistruths and hallucinate -- eBay is well aware of this, as the new listing-generating tool has a disclaimer warning that the text might not be completely accurate -- but with the use cases that eBay envisions for it.

Sellers point out that eBay's AI-generated descriptions aren't clear, concise or direct enough for most buyers. The description generator tends to be repetitive and verbose, they claim -- even for basic items. And the generated text doesn't list the individual characteristics of items, including their flaws.

eBay certainly isn't the only marketplace embracing AI as a way to solve a funnel problem (i.e. convincing more sellers, which pay revenue-generating selling fees, to list items -- and to make its pages more discoverable on search engines). Shopify recently introduced AI-generated product descriptions, while Amazon rolled out AI-generated summaries of reviews.

The Information reports that Amazon is also piloting AI that'll allow merchants to generate titles, descriptions and bullet points for select products. Unlike eBay's newly launched tool, Amazon's will work not from photos but from a list of keywords, and "strictly regulate" the content allowed in the generated product listings.

But eBay's roadmap is arguably among the more aggressive. And sellers -- rightfully so, I'd argue -- are beginning to question the wisdom of that strategy.