Amazon Enters Chatbot Fray With Shopping Tool

Amazon entered the consumer chatbot fray on Thursday, announcing a new artificial intelligence personal shopping assistant as the company races to catch up with other tech giants.

Customers can ask the tool, Rufus, product questions directly in the search bar of the company’s mobile app, Amazon said in a blog post. The A.I. will then provide answers in a conversational tone. The examples provided in the announcement included comparing different kinds of coffee makers, recommendations for gifts and a follow-up question about the durability of running shoes.

Rufus will be available starting on Thursday to a “small subset of customers,” according to the post, and it will be rolled out to additional customers in the coming weeks. Amazon declined to provide more details about how many people will be part of the tool’s initial release.

Amazon has been racing to shake off the perception that it is behind on the wave of A.I. unleashed more than a year ago, when the start-up OpenAI released its ChatGPT chatbot.

Microsoft and Google last spring released chatbots and A.I. tools for their search engines, often highlighting shopping-related uses, and startups like Perplexity have tried to redesign the search experience with A.I. in mind.

In the fall, Amazon released a corporate chatbot, called Q, for customers of its cloud computing division, and the company said it was working to make its Alexa voice assistant more conversational.

The Amazon search bar and the top results it produces are some of the most important placements in online retail. They have been the subject of antitrust inquiries, and the product ads in the search results are a foundation for the company’s booming advertising business.

The new Rufus tool is “trained on Amazon’s extensive product catalog, customer reviews, community Q. and A.s, and information from across the web,” the company said.

Amazon allows its employees to bring their dogs to work, and a dog named Rufus was one of the first to roam its offices in the company’s early days.

Separately on Thursday, Amazon reported strong fourth-quarter earnings, fueled in part by the holiday season.

Sales in the quarter hit $170 billion, up 17 percent from a year earlier. The company had $10.6 billion in profits. The results beat analysts’ expectations and Amazon’s own forecast.

The services the company provides to third-party sellers on its marketplace, including fulfillment and shipping, and the advertisements it offers to brands and sellers experienced particularly strong quarters.

Investors have been keeping a close eye on Amazon’s most profitable segments — cloud computing and advertising. Advertising grew 27 percent to $14.7 billion in sales, and Amazon Web Services grew 13 percent to $24.2 billion, just meeting investor expectations.


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