eBay today released an updated version of its Google Assistant app that lets users start a conversation about an item you want to buy on a smart speaker, then continue the shopping experience on an Android or iOS smartphone.
By saying “Hey Google, ask eBay to find me a” followed by the name of virtually any item, the eBay voice app will conduct a search, ask you questions to narrow the results, and then answer your question. Once an item is found that meets your liking, the eBay app will then ask if it can send the results to your phone.
eBay is one of the first Google Assistant voice apps to take advantage of the new feature Google calls multi-surface switching. Earlier this month, Google rolled out a series of changes including multi-surface switching to better equip developers with more tools to make voice apps for the millions of devices with the power to speak with Google Assistant.
The news was announced today in a blog post by eBay product manager Jay Vasudevan.
Like every other conversational experience driven with conversational AI, this voice app still makes mistakes, but it has the power to drill down in searches well beyond your initial query. For example, before delivering an answer for wireless headphones, the eBay app may ask if you want headphones from Apple, Sony, or another brand, whether you want in-ear or over-the-ear headphones, and your choice of color.
Results sent to your phone aren’t sent to the eBay app or a web browser, but directly to Google Assistant, meaning that they will appear anytime you scroll up to see previous Google Assistant interactions or visit the My Activity portion of the Google Assistant app.
In order for results to be sent to your phone, the eBay voice app requires that you say “ask eBay to find me wireless headphones.” All other queries search eBay to tell you how much you can get for selling a new or used item on eBay.
The multi-surface shopping experience appears to be limited to Google’s voice apps today, but such a feature could one day be used for shopping through other visual interfaces like Chromecast or tablets using the Android operating system, which are rumored to be
Multi-surface shopping could also change Google Express, which is Google’s answer to Amazon’s massive marketplace. Since Google Express shopping with a Google Home smart speaker became available in recent months, Google Express has come to include some of the largest retailers in the United States, including Home Depot, Target, and Costco. Powering discovery for shoppers via natural language for some of the biggest stores in the U.S. sounds like a daunting, but potentially lucrative challenge.
Google Express shopping today is limited to Home smart speakers. Ask Google’s Pixel Buds or an Android smartphone with Google Assistant to “order paper towels” today and, ironically, you’ll get a web search with Amazon.com as the top result.
This is by no means eBay’s first venture into conversational commerce. An eBay Facebook Messenger bot named ShopBot made its debut in October 2016, and the eBay voice app for Google Assistant made its debut in July 2017.