Amazon’s generative AI bot Rufus makes online shopping easier (for the most part) – Yahoo Finance

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Amazon (AMZN) is bringing generative AI to its shopping app via its new Rufus chatbot. I’ve used a good deal of generative AI apps so far, and they’ve largely focused on searching the web, helping write emails, and making putting together PowerPoints a bit less, well, hellish.

Rufus, however, is designed to make shopping quicker and easier by providing you with answers to questions about product categories and individual items. The chatbot, which is trained on Amazon’s product catalog and web data, appears at the bottom of the Amazon shopping app as a tab that you swipe up to access. It doesn’t replace the regular search bar at the top of the screen. Rather, it serves as a means of expanding on it.

Of course, if Rufus takes off among consumers, it will be a major win for Amazon. That’s because the chatbot could get users to spend more time in Amazon’s shopping app and less time looking up information about products on Google (GOOG, GOOGL) which could lead them to buy goods through competing online stores.

I got an early look at a beta version of Rufus to see how well it works. And while it isn’t perfect, it did make shopping for things like video games, cat food, and weightlifting equipment easier.

I needed windshield wipers for my car, so I typed wipers into the search bar at the top of the screen. Rufus then appeared in a small box at the bottom of the screen with suggested follow-up questions such as “What are the different types of windshield wipers available?”, “How do I choose the right windshield wiper size for my vehicle?”, and “What are the features to look for when buying windshield wipers?”

Rufus can provide a rundown of different types of products such as windshield wipers. (Image: Howley)Rufus can provide a rundown of different types of products such as windshield wipers. (Image: Howley)

Rufus can provide a rundown of different types of products such as windshield wipers. (Daniel Howley) (Howley)

Tap a suggestion, and you’ll get the appropriate answer. For instance, tapping “What are the features to look for when buying windshield wipers?” gave me a list of items to consider, including blade type, blade size, wiper rubber quality, and adapter type. Riveting stuff, I know. But if you’re tired of hearing your wipers screech like nails on a chalkboard every time it rains, these are the kinds of things you want to know about.

I also needed — well, wanted — to shop for the game “Final Fantasy VII Remake.” The problem is there are a few versions of this game on the market, and deciding which one to buy can be a pain. So I decided to check with Rufus to see if it could distinguish between the versions of the game, and, to my surprise, it did just that.

Not only did Rufus manage to tell the difference between the PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4 versions of the game, it also knew the differences between the base version of the game and an expanded version.

Rufus provided an in-depth explanation of the differences between the two versions of the gameRufus provided an in-depth explanation of the differences between the two versions of the game

Rufus provided an in-depth explanation of the differences between the two versions of the game “Final Fantasy VII Remake.” (Daniel Howley) (Howley)

But here’s where Rufus trips up. One of the follow-up questions it offered was “What are the best weapons and armor to get in ‘Final Fantasy 7 Remake?’” The chatbot gave me a basic rundown of how to pick weapons and armor in the game, choose items that hit an enemy’s weaknesses, etc., but it then brought up buying options for a “Final Fantasy VII” character action figure and a seemingly unrelated wig.

The bot rebounded when I started searching for weight plates for my home gym, providing the pros and cons of metal versus rubber plates, explaining that while metal plates last longer, rubber plates will do less damage to my floor. That kind of insight can be incredibly useful for someone who’s just getting into lifting and doesn’t know which kind of plate to buy.

But when I changed up the question to “What are differences between metal plates and rubber plates?” it became confused and gave me a search option for metal dining plates, but a description of metal weightlifting plates.

Rufus an get confused when asking questions. Here, it couldn't distinguish between whether I was asking about metal weightlifting plates or metal dining plates. (Image: Howley)Rufus an get confused when asking questions. Here, it couldn't distinguish between whether I was asking about metal weightlifting plates or metal dining plates. (Image: Howley)

Rufus can get confused when asking questions. Here, it couldn’t distinguish between whether I was asking about metal weightlifting plates or metal dining plates. (Daniel Howley) (Howley)

I also tried looking up some items I should buy for an upcoming trip to Ireland. When I asked Rufus “What should I buy before leaving for vacation in Ireland?” the bot offered an Ireland travel guide book, lightweight rain jacket, sweater, walking shoes, and a power adapter. Rufus provided an explanation for each suggestion, as well, saying that Ireland’s climate can be rainy, and that even in the summer, evening temperatures can be rather cool.

When I tapped on a suggested follow-up question asking about the top attractions and destinations in Ireland, Rufus gave me information about certain areas including the Cliffs of Moher and Giant’s Causeway. The app then provided information about each locale, complete with books or movies for purchase related to the areas.

Finally, I tried asking Rufus for the cheapest paper towels. But rather than a straight-up answer pointing me to the least expensive product, the bot gave me a list of popular paper towel brands and a short description of them. Not exactly what I was hoping for.

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While Rufus isn’t quite perfect, I did find the AI chatbot helpful with certain purchasing decisions. No, it couldn’t answer all of my questions, but Amazon is careful to label the bot as a piece of beta software. There are also thumbs up and thumbs down buttons you can choose to select to rate Rufus’s responses.

More generally, I find apps like Rufus to be the most useful early application of generative AI technology. Sure, drafting emails or searching the web is helpful, but a bot that can break down the difference between a handful of products quickly and make purchasing decisions easier is far more interesting.

Daniel Howley is the tech editor at Yahoo Finance. He’s been covering the tech industry since 2011. You can follow him on Twitter @DanielHowley.

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