eBay has called on retailers to embrace artificial intelligence (AI) and ensure it is the driving force of business decisions in the coming years.

The eCommerce company, which has 171 million active worldwide buyers in 190 market globally, is developing AI products to ensure it isn’t left behind in the retail AI arms race.

“AI is transforming every aspect of our business,” said RJ Pittman, chief product officer at eBay. “From brand to customer service and everything in between. But to do it at scale, commerce has to get a lot smarter. That’s a top priority for me, and a top priority at eBay.”

He added: “AI needs to be at the front and centre as a driving force to make this happen.”

Speaking at Shoptalk Europe in Copenhagen, he continued: “It’s bigger than the web and the mobile revolution combined. By 2020 if we’re not engaged with this technology and making it a meaningful part of our businesses – we are braindead.”

He added: “This industry is moving so fast, the fastest innovative companies on the planet, couldn’t possibly keep up.”

Pittman described how eBay has created a chatbot, called Shopbot, which combines context with machine learning. He used an example of a customer asking eBay what she should wear for a summer wedding in Italy. The chatbot used historical purchase data to suggest a dress she had bought recently, and then recommended a pair of shoes from eBay which would match the dress.

“It needs to know the weather in Italy and what weddings actually are – if you want to answer that question in a way no search engine can do today.”

But Pittman said the next step up for the technology is to use it to design products. “What if you had an AI which could do the designing for you – produce a one-of-a-kind shoe just for you?

eBay has also partnered with Google Home to make it easier for customers to communicate with eBay.

“When we put all of this science together in a meaningful and simple way and put it in front of our customers, commerce starts to become a little bit smarter.”