What will the digital-first workplace look like in ten years’ time? For those who attended Retail Week Live 2018, billed as the ‘single largest gathering of retail leadership in the UK’, this question cropped up time and again over two days of diverse, forward-looking seminars.
The retail sector is in a state of evolution – most of it in the digital direction. And for ecommerce businesses, this has transformative implications not just for the online experience they provide their customers, but also for their organisational and business models and – crucially – their workforces.
As part of the event’s packed agenda, eBay Marketing Director Gareth Jones and Ed Bussey, CEO and Founder of Quill, sat down to explore this complex topic.
Over the course of a 30-minute panel, they discussed the benefits of developing agile, on-demand workforces that can respond to seasonal flux, boosting human creativity via machine automation and improving digital literacy in employees.
See below for some of the essential takeaways from their on-stage Q&A.
On the future role of AI in ecommerce and the world of work…
Gareth: “At eBay, we love all this stuff, because at any one point we’ve got 1.2 billion items on the platform, and every day we generate 300 million new pages that Google indexes and crawls. The issue for us is therefore how do we use AI, machine learning and deep learning to structure all of that information – at scale – and present it to customers in a way that’s going to make sense to them.”
Ed: “From our point of view, AI is not going to solve every single problem. The way we think about and apply AI at Quill is best encapsulated by the term ‘humans in the loop’ – utilising technology and machine intelligence to remove the replication of tasks that can be done far more efficiently through technology than by humans.
“For example, a lot of what a proof-reader does can be done to an 100% level of accuracy through software. But AI (and we’ve tested this) is still only 60-70% of the way there in terms of producing totally accurate product descriptions, for example – which simply isn’t a sufficient level of quality for brands.
“So, although AI can help to build a huge amount of efficiencies into the content production process, the human contribution (particularly around creativity and understanding tone of voice) is also critical and will play a long-term role.”
On the benefits of leveraging an on-demand workforce…
Gareth: “The digitisation of the workplace is certainly something we feel very acutely at eBay; we’re geographically concentrated in London but a global business, working alongside data specialists in Seattle or search specialists in Silicon Valley, for example. So workplace management tools – like Slack and Box – give us the ability to collaborate much more closely when we’re actually very distant.
“Another thing that we’re beginning to capitalise on is the fluidity of the supply in the workforce – so we’re increasingly tapping into work supply marketplaces to augment our existing staff and capabilities.”
Ed: “The reason I built the business [Quill] was initially coming at it from a client-side perspective, following my experience at Figleaves. We found we just couldn’t stay on top of the volume of product content that was needed on a seasonal basis, in multiple languages. The existing models of content production are just not fit for that purpose.
“So we purpose-built Quill to solve that challenge, using a model with a piece of central technology (the Quill Cloud), as well as a screened network of about 2,000 content creators around the world, covering around 40 languages. They’re all freelancers, so are dispersed globally. And the benefit to them is that this model of work gives them a more flexible, balanced work-life arrangement.
“It’s part of a huge shift that we see increasing in momentum, not just in our industry but more broadly. People don’t always want to be working inside the one office of one brand; they want to be working for three or four cool brands, and the freedom to live wherever they want, be it Barcelona or Bali.”
On how companies can stimulate digital growth and development among employees…
Gareth: “We take development very seriously at eBay. I think we’re a relatively flat organisation… We develop people in what we call a ‘latticed’ way, by offering lots of horizontal experiences – and what gives us agility and intensity is often hybrid, horizontal structures.
“So we’ll drop people into projects that give them a lot of on-the-job training, and they’ll move around those quite regularly. We also immerse lots of our marketing team members in our agencies, to help them develop a technical practitioner skillset.”
Ed: “We actually have a training program within our Network, so everyone that comes into the Network gets tested and screened on the way in by the platform, and then will get re-tested when the platform identifies specific relevant projects.
“This is great for the Network, and we can share skills and expertise and help to develop their careers. But it also has a tangible, measurable impact on the success of projects. We know, from analysing our data, that time and cost invested in training reduces time spent editing and correcting work downstream.”
With the unique combination of the Quill Network – a 2,000-strong pool of freelancers, spread over 40 languages – and human-managed automation via our proprietary Quill Cloud platform, we are revolutionising online content creation. To learn more about how we can help you rapidly scale up your content production capabilities, get in touch below.