June 6, 2019

Supercharge online marketplaces with AI.


Blue pills, a bear skin, a dress used only once, a fancy “Rolex”, and a brand-new iPhone. If there is demand, someone will sell the items on the internet, most likely on social media or via online marketplaces.

In many countries, online trading is strictly regulated. Legislation exists not only to define the legality of the products and services, but also to ensure the ownership of the goods or assets. Online marketplaces, of course, have rules and policies, which align and comply with the legislation for that particular country.

However, countries with heavy religious or cultural influence may have much tighter laws and policies. In this case, online marketplaces, whether they are general classifieds or specific verticals, also have to take the local specialties into account.

That said, some of the most common challenges for online marketplaces are to keep the site free from illegal and inappropriate content as well preventing spam and minimizing fraud. From a business point of view, lawfulness, conformity to the culture, as well as quality of the content are all important, but a successful online marketplace needs to have users, and its users need to reach the goal they have in mind.

Their goal is usually to get their items sold for the highest price as quickly as possible, and an important part of that is ensuring their ad gets published without delay. Ads need to be published in the right category, and the accompanying text be informative enough with genuine images…all in keeping with the online marketplace’s policy and style.

This is when content moderation comes into play. For a popular marketplace with a high volume of ads, it is a huge challenge to keep all content on track. To tackle this problem, some early adopters have turned to content moderation software for help.


Online marketplace competition is getting harder, especially with the emergence of some social media platforms, which were not built as marketplaces but are moving into that space. Selling stuff on social media is considered much easier, because the audience is large, and publishing is immediate.

How then can online marketplace services retain their core business, and become even more attractive to their users? There are many new ways, and using modern AI tools is the key.


Social media marketplaces have an advantage in terms of speed. Unlike dedicated online marketplaces, these platforms conduct arbitrary post-moderation instead of pre-moderation, so there is no delay in publishing.

However, by skipping the pre-moderation phase, sites often a compromise legality and quality.

Both the social media marketplaces and dedicated online marketplace services share the same quality problems: pictures can be from catalogues, and not the actual item, there may be explicit content, or ads be otherwise inferior. User profiles can be selective, and the ad itself might be missing important information.

As significant as pre-moderation is in keeping up with the ad quality, it does require a lot of time and effort. Human moderators mostly work during the day time. They start their day emptying the moderation queue, which might take an hour or two. Publishing delays are long not only at night but also in the morning.

This is where utilizing modern AI tools will hugely benefit online e-commerce site. It can automatize the publishing and moderation of all user-generated content.

With AI tools the publishing becomes real-time, and the quality of the ads will beat social-media-based marketplaces, in a way that will again attract end-users.

AI also improves the quality of the moderation. The publishing policy is usually a very long list of details, and for humans it is quite difficult to remember every single item when reading an ad. AI is exceptionally good with details.

Also, there are substantial differences between humans. If one person rejects 4% of the ads, a colleague, getting similar data and working with the same rules, rejects twice as much, 8%. Apparently, the first one doesn’t notice everything and the second one rejects too much.


Online marketplaces may be concentrated on single verticals, such as cars or real estate or they can be a general classifieds platform for buying, selling and renting almost everything.

From a moderation point of view, there are three types of user-generated content that need to be examined for fraud, spam or possible other type of rule violation. The most common types of content are: text, images and the exchanged messages between the seller and any potential buyer.

Contrary to popular belief that there should be a separate moderation product for each type of content, one single advanced AI tool is in fact able to look after it all. It can examine everything from the content of the ad, to the images, the user profiles, and even the messages between users.

A sales ad typically contains a title, a description, a price, a category, a location, pictures, and information about the seller. On some online marketplaces with more advanced features, there might be separate fields such as size, model, color, age and condition. Having these in separate fields makes searches to the large number of sales ads quick and easy.

Images also make a huge difference. A picture from a catalogue might look good but doesn’t show the actual condition of a second-hand product.

Top-quality AI tools can also review the images and detect fake profiles and violation of the site publishing policy or misrepresentation between users.


Some people ask can an AI tool really do all this? Is an automated moderation solution really able to take care of most of the online marketplace moderation with a high degree of accuracy? The answer is yes, and indeed the accuracy of a top-class AI content moderation tool is higher than that of a human moderator. Many pioneers in the online marketplace business have already adopted AI-based moderation.

Utopia AI Moderator automatically learns each online marketplace policy from past human decisions. In other words, the AI model learns what kinds of content was previously approved on the site, and will therefore understand what is acceptable and what is not.

Not only that, Utopia’s unique AI technology understands any language or dialect, informal languages, slang as well as accidentally or intentionally mistyped words. Most importantly, whenever any modification or addition to the policy takes place, the tool automatically learns these from new examples. As a result, the AI model will always be up-to-date.

With Utopia Analytics, a unique AI model takes only two weeks to build, and works in real-time, reducing the moderation delay to milliseconds. It will solve one of the biggest e-commerce issues, freeing human moderators from routine work, so that they can pay more attention to complex cases. In our experience, the workload of human moderators will be cut by up to 95% overnight.


In many cases, a declined ad will be sent back to its creator, along with an explanation as to why it was not accepted, accompanied by a request for modification and resubmission. Typical reasons might include vague, misleading, irrelevant or inappropriate content, catalogue picture, incorrect category or a violation of the site policy.

While the explanation helps improve the ad and adds value to the users, it creates a lot of extra work for the moderators as each case has to be handled individually.

With an AI tool the feedback to users can also be automated.


Traditionally, adopting new digital services requires much additional work for the IT team. IT systems behind online marketplaces tend to be very complex. New features and functionalities are continually required, and over the years, the legacy gradually grows. We think of this as rule spaghetti.

If you are using a modern AI approach, many of these problems can be solved by moving parts of the most important rules to data-based learning. An AI moderation tool is able to use the knowledge collected over many years to handle the big picture. It will simplify the system and enormously reduce the maintenance cost. It also makes all further development much easier.

The good news is, it takes only two days for the IT team to set up the integration to Utopia AI Moderator.





Further reading:
How can an online marketplace make 160 000 euros more every month after implementing AI content moderation?

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