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Amazon said yesterday that it is testing Rufus, described as "a generative AI-powered expert shopping assistant trained on Amazon’s extensive product catalog, customer reviews, community Q&As, and information from across the web to answer customer questions on a variety of shopping needs and products, provide comparisons, and make recommendations based on conversational context."

Rufus is launching "in beta to a small subset of customers in Amazon’s mobile app, Rufus will progressively roll out to additional U.S. customers in the coming weeks."

In the announcement, Amazon said that using Rufus on its mobile app, "Customers can conduct more general product research on Amazon, asking questions such as 'what to consider when buying headphones?', 'what to consider when detailing my car at home?', or 'what are clean beauty products?” and receive helpful information to guide their shopping mission … Customers can search for and discover products based on activity, event, purpose, and other specific use cases by asking a range of questions such as 'what do I need for cold weather golf?' or 'I want to start an indoor garden'."

In addition, Amazon said, "Customers can now ask 'what’s the difference between lip gloss and lip oil?' or 'compare drip to pour-over coffee makers' so they can find the type of product that best suits their needs and make even more confident purchase decisions … Customers can ask for recommendations for exactly what they need, such as 'what are good gifts for Valentine’s Day?' or 'best dinosaur toys for a 5-year-old.'  Rufus generates results tailored to the specific question and makes it quick and easy for customers to browse more refined results."

KC's View:

In its analysis, the New York Times this morning writes that "even without generative A.I., 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."

Which makes an excellent point.  When Rufus answers, will it be offering objective responses?  Or responses that have been bought and paid for by advertisers?  Because if it is the latter, Rufus is going to wear out its welcome, and open the door to even more regulatory examination.

Next question:  Will Amazon at some point license Rufus-style technology to other retailers?  Because if I am right - if Amazon decides to get out of the fresh grocery physical retail business and put all of its focus on e-grocery, and then moves to become more of a technology licensing company - then this might happen not too far down the road.  It would pit Amazon against companies like Microsoft, Google, and Apple in this space, but that's where the battles are going to be fought.

One cute note from the Times story:  "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."  Hence the name.

This is all powerful stuff, and the future of search.