My not-so-perfect Christmas shopping excursion with AI chatbots

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In addition to Shopify, chatbots from delivery company Instacart have appeared in the past 12 months; Mercari, resale platform; Carrefour, a retailer; and Kering, owner of Gucci and Balenciaga. Walmart, Mastercard and Signet Jewelers are also testing chatbots, which could be publicly available next year.

“In a way, it's recreating a store environment, but online,” said Carl Rivera, Shopify's vice president who oversees its Shop app, which hosts Shop AI. He said the chatbot broke down people's questions into key terms and searched for relevant ones. products from Shopify's millions of sellers. It then recommends products based on reviews and the buyer's purchase history.

Retailers have long used chatbots, but previous versions lacked conversational capabilities and typically answered only a few pre-set questions, such as the status of an order. Newer chatbots, by contrast, can process prompts and generate personalized responses, creating a more “personalized and authentic” interaction, said Jen Jones, director of marketing for the Commercetools platform.

It remains an unknown whether buyers want this technology. “Consumers like simplicity, so they don't necessarily want to have five different generative AI tools that they would use for different purposes,” said Olivier Toubia, a marketing professor at Columbia Business School.

Nicola Conway, a London lawyer, contacted Kering luxury personal buyer Madeline in August to find a pink bridesmaid dress for a spring wedding. Madeline was “intuitive and novel,” she said, but she only had one recommendation: an Alexander McQueen corset dress. Mrs. Conway finally didn't believe it.



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