eBay boosts its big-data brain with Expertmaker buy

The rap on eBay’s website is that it’s too messy, forcing users to pick through page after page of listings to find what they really want. Plenty of customers just give up and head to Amazon instead.

The good news is that eBay knows this is a problem and is working to fix it. The bad news is that eBay on average hosts 900 million listings — from new ink cartridges to one-of-a-kind porcelain dolls — making sorting all this stuff a humongous job.

As part of its push to offer up more relevant products to shoppers, eBay on Thursday said it agreed to purchase Sweden-based Expertmaker, a 10-year-old software firm specializing in artificial intelligence and machine learning to help organize and analyze huge sets of data. It has already been working with Expertmaker since 2010, most recently on a “structured data” project — eBay’s fancy term for “We’re going to make our site less of a cluttered pile of stuff.” For example, Expertmaker helps eBay automatically add more product information, like color and model number, to listing pages, making it easier for customers to find specific items.

Expertmaker’s employees will join eBay’s structured-data team, and Expertmaker’s founder and CEO, Lars Hard, will be named director of data science. Financial terms of the deal, which is expected to close this quarter, weren’t disclosed.

The Expertmaker deal is one of a handful of small acquisitions eBay has made since spinning off PayPal. eBay in March bought Cargigi to build up its eBay Motors business and acquired Twice last year to bolster eBay Valet, which lets people list their items with the help of experienced sellers. eBay last year also sold off eBay Enterprise (now called Magento), which helps run online retail sites, so eBay could focus on its primary marketplaces.

So far, eBay still appears to be in the early innings of a potential turnaround. Its main marketplace has seen its revenue slowly drop over the past year amid heavy competition from Amazon. But eBay posted better-than-expected quarterly results last week thanks to strong growth from StubHub, its concert and sports tickets marketplace.

In another effort to clean up its site, eBay last week unveiled a new dedicated page called eBay Wine, which focuses entirely on selling international wines.