Friday, May 24

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

In addition to Shopify, chatbots from Instacart, the delivery company, have come out in the last 12 months; Mercari, resale platform; Carrefour, a retailer; and Kering, which owns Gucci and Balenciaga. Walmart, Mastercard and Signet Jewelers are also testing chatbots, which could become available to the public as early as next year.

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

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

Whether buyers want this technology remains a question. “Consumers like simplicity, so they don’t necessarily want to have five different generative AI tools to use for different purposes,” said Olivier Toubia, a marketing professor at Columbia Business School.

Nicola Conway, a London lawyer, tried Kering’s luxury personal shopper, Madeline, in August in search of a pink bridesmaid dress for a spring wedding. Madeline was “intuitive and innovative,” he said, but he gave only one recommendation, a corset dress by Alexander McQueen. Mrs. Conway didn’t end up buying it.