How to use AI as a shopping assistant

HI! We are back with another edition of In technology: artificial intelligencea pop-up newsletter that teaches you about artificial intelligence, how it works and how to use it.

Last week, I showed you how to use AI to prepare you for the dreaded office meeting. Now let’s take the money you made from all that hard work and move on to something more fun: shopping.

The time-consuming part of shopping for many is the research process: poring over review sites and choosing the right item for you, whether it’s coffee equipment or an affordable, comfortable hotel room.

I’ll cover what AI can do to help make informed purchasing decisions quickly and efficiently. For this exercise, I’ll focus on using chatbots, including Microsoft’s Bing, Google’s Bard, and OpenAI’s ChatGPT to research products. I’ll also explore how to use the ChatGPT plugins, a more recent development, to create shopping lists and plan trips.

Let’s say you like to make coffee with a French press and you’re looking to buy a grinder that costs no more than $200. The typical research process is to do a web search and read a bunch of reviews.

AI chatbots can streamline this process. Microsoft’s Bing and Google’s Bard, which are linked to search engines by default, are currently best equipped to get up-to-date product recommendations.

As always, the right prompt will get the best results. For this example, you would type something like: Act as a shopping assistant. I’m looking for a French press grinder that is well reviewed. It shouldn’t cost more than $200. In response, Bing and Bard will list examples of grinders that meet the criteria.

You can also ask the chatbots more difficult questions, such as which appliances will last the longest. You could type something like Act as shopping assistant. I am looking for a refrigerator. Which brands have the highest reliability scores and what are some of their well-reviewed refrigerators?

The bots will tell you which appliances have the highest reliability ratings from publications like Consumer Reports and The Times’ Wirecutter.

Whenever you use a chatbot, it’s a good idea to check the accuracy of the results. But doing a web search to double-check bot recommendations is much faster than manually searching from scratch.

Now let’s talk about the future. OpenAI is developing a plugin platform, which is essentially a third-party app store that allows you to add functionality to ChatGPT. Currently only subscribers who pay $20/month for ChatGPT Plus can use the plug-ins, including those for web browsing and shopping.

To use the plugins if you are a paying subscriber, go to ChatGPT settings menu, click beta features and activate plug-ins. Then, in the ChatGPT app or website, go to the GPT-4 tab and click plugins. Then click the down arrow and select Plugin Store. This is where you can search for apps. Let’s start with one for the grocery delivery app, Instacart.

Try typing a prompt like, I’m making pasta bolognese. What is a good recipe and what are the ingredients? The chatbot will list the ingredients that go on the plate and offer to generate a shopping list.

Another interesting way to use the plugin is to bypass dietary restrictions. For example, I’m making dinner for a fisherman. Give me a suggestion and the ingredients. The robot will suggest a meal in my case, Shrimp in Lemon Garlic Butter and list the ingredients.

Clicking on the shopping list will take you to Instacart, where you can automatically load all the items in your cart and choose a grocery store to buy them from.

If you don’t want to pay for ChatGPT Plus, you can still use AI to do your shopping. Try asking Bing for a recipe, then ask him for a shopping list of required ingredients. In a particularly neat trick, you can even ask him to organize your shopping list by grocery store aisle.

There are also plugins from travel sites like Kayak and Expedia that help with trip planning. For example, you might be looking for a well-rated hotel within walking distance of tourist sites for up to $500 a night, a process that would typically require wading through reviews and flipping through maps.

Let’s try the Expedia plugin as a shortcut.

I’ve been traveling to Florence, Italy since July. Find me well-reviewed hotels that are within walking distance of tourist attractions. My budget is $500 a night. The bot responded to this request with a list of the best hotels rated 9 and above on Expedia near tourist attractions such as the Central Market and the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.

You can also use the Expedia plugin to search for flights. For example, I’m looking to fly to Milan, Italy from San Francisco on July 28th. What are my best short layover options? ChatGPT will then load Expedia results for the shortest flights. He returned three flights from KLM, Delta and United, all with single stopovers lasting no more than two hours. (I tried the same suggestions with Bard and Bing, which showed generic information and inaccurate ticket prices that weren’t helpful!)

Next week, I’m going to talk about how to use AI to organize your life.

#shopping #assistant

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