We tried out eBay's newest personalization feature -- and it should have Amazon terrified


Buy something from any online retailer and nine times out of 10, you’ll end up with a list of "items you may like" or "recommended items" on the checkout screen.

And it’s pretty much a guarantee that those items are directly correlated with the exact item you previously purchased.

Here's the logic -- if you’ve just purchased a brand new lawnmower, chances are you’re deeply interested and invested in every lawnmower on the market and the next purchase your apt to make will most likely be another lawnmower, making the post-purchase recommendations served to you completely relevant, right?

Obviously not.

But in an era where so many platforms are excelling in personalization and custom-curated recommendations — think Spotify ‘Discover Weekly’ playlists, Netflix’s suggested watch lists — there seems to be a gap in the e-commerce world where new, appropriate shop-able items are being surfaced to consumers that pertain directly to the ‘profile’ in which that shopper embodies.

With the launch of Interests, eBay is hoping not only to bridge that gap, but completely transform that market.

The company describes Interests as a feature that "tailors your shopping experience based on your passions, hobbies, and style.”

Consumers will access a completely unique homepage that surfaces shop-able items and content that may be of interest to them based on the consumer’s shopping behavior on the hobbies, interests and styles they pre-select to surface.

eBay’s Head of Browse & Personalization, Bradford Shellhammer, elaborated on the core concept behind Interests:

“Much of what this team’s work is doing is stepping back from personalization efforts of the past, which have been all about trying to get you to buy something based on what you were looking at recently.

The new strategy is focused “more about not getting it wrong, which means pulling enough of the stuff that is irrelevant out of the way so that you keep exploring because eventually you’ll fall in love with something, we believe that firmly.”

Shoppers will log on to the site and select specific interests through a series of questions. Their homepage will then update to a custom landing page of items and themes that the site’s algorithm will select in correlation with the consumer’s engagement patterns with specific items, sizes, categories, etc. on the site.

We tried out the Interests feature by carefully selecting our interests and hobbies through a series of questions — After heading to the eBay NYC, we were able to see our ‘collection’ come to life in person.

The result?

A physical embodiment of perhaps some of the most contradictory and unrelated interests and hobbies (wine-drinking, new music-exploring, designer goods-obsessed, dog-loving) coming together in a cohesive manner that showcased items we wouldn’t have even thought to look for — and every single item was something we would have clicked ‘Buy It Now’ on had we been viewing them on the eBay site!

Here was our collection come to life:

Safe to say, eBay totally nailed it.

Shellhammer elaborated on the use of consumers’ shopping behavior patterns to help further dwindle down items to surface that the consumer might be interested in:

“Engagement for us means the customer doing the next step proactively — if that means buy something, great, but we’re fine if they’re just browsing — if they start to save something … or watch an item … we just want people to keep going on the journey.”

Thus, the drive-home point of Interests isn’t to translate every item that the customer views into a direct purchase, but rather to improve consumers’ overall shopping experience and continue to keep them engaged with eBay and all that it has to offer:

“What this experience is trying to do is at least filter in a different kind of recommendation that’s less about what you’ve been looking at or buying most recently and more about an interest that you have (whether you’ve told us or we think you have it) that’s a little more holistic. And the whole idea is that it injects the unexpected into the shopping experience, but it’s the safe unexpected. And that’s the difference here.”

With 171 million active buyers worldwide, you can expect 171 million different homepages that are in no way, shape or form the same.

Shellhammer abides by the fact that eBay “doesn’t a vested interest in what we’re selling, it’s more about the customer” and if Interests is any indication, he couldn’t be more on the mark.

Interests is currently available on eBay’s mobile app in the U.S. for iOs and Android, expected to roll out on mobile-web and desktop in the coming months.