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Opinion: Going holiday shopping with chatbot

Eyes & Ears

Posted online

This column is about the convergence of technology and Christmas. Gift-giving, to be exact, assisted by artificial intelligence. That’s right, think high-tech Santa (cue visual of a slenderer St. Nick on a faster sled).

If AI and chatbots can be put to work for marketing, customer engagement, lead generation and business automation, why not shopping for Christmas gifts? Could be for a family member, supervisor or co-worker. I started searching for something for a child.

Instead of driving the car to peruse multiple retailers, I first logged in to ChatGPT 3.5.

Me: best Christmas gifts for son who loves soccer, thrifting, and hanging with friends

ChatGPT: It’s great that you know your son’s interests!

Me: Thank you (blushing)

The bot seems more personal than when we last chatted. Here are the gift ideas, with my thoughts weaved in; let’s see what we learn about the tech.

For soccer, ChatGPT suggested a soccer ball with his favorite team’s logo, a personalized jersey and soccer cleats or athletic socks.

Interestingly enough, we just replaced his soccer boots. But I’m surprised the bot didn’t mention the high-tech soccer balls on the market that track a player’s touches, the ball’s spin and trajectory and even keeps score in 1:1 matches with a friend. The tech tool overlooked a tech gift. Score: Human 1, Bot 0.

After this, there were six other gift categories. ChatGPT dubbed the next as Thrifting Treasures: Vintage soccer jerseys or sportswear from thrift stores. Look for unique and rare finds, a stylish thrifted jacket or hoodie that suits his taste and a vintage soccer poster or memorabilia to add to his collection.

These seem obvious and not too helpful. And I’m surprised here it didn’t veer much from the soccer theme. Maybe it’s just warming up; the vintage jersey idea nets an equalizer: Score: Human 1, Bot 1.

The next category, Hangout Essentials, provided a winning idea: portable Bluetooth speaker for playing music during hangouts. The other ideas were boring and repetitive, signaling a draw this round: Score: Human 1, Bot 1.

The next two covered Personalized Items and Experience Gifts. These ideas were a mixed bag between the lame (engraved friendship bracelet), the cool (customized soccer-themed phone case) and the confusing (what is a personalized thrifting mug?). We’re still even: Score: Human 2, Bot 2.

The AI shopping spree finishes with these two: Subscription Services and DIY Gifts. The most unique gift to me came out here: “Thrift store subscription box that delivers unique finds to his doorstep regularly.” I hadn’t heard of this service – only for new threads – and I find it pretty clever. Though it could mean a lot of other people’s junk. And I give props for the do-it-yourself suggestions (one was a scrapbook with memories of his soccer achievements and moments with friends), a nice touch even if it’s not one’s personal gift-giving style.

I’d say ChatGPT came in clutch: Final: Human 2, Bot 3.

In the end, it was a fun and practical exercise – a good starting place for human intervention to follow. That seems to be the theme with these chatbot applications in business and personal life.

Christmas budget
The other side of Christmas gifting is the expense.

Springfield Business Journal asked readers last month what they budgeted for gifts this holiday season. Most people, at 35%, said they’d spend up to $1,000 and another 24% were keeping it under $500. But a healthy 23% planned to spend up to $5,000, giving a nod to the affluency of the SBJ audience. And it’s worth noting 11 people in the poll have budgeted over $10,000 this Christmas.

What about inflation? Or maybe that’s the reason some budgets are high.

According to the annual Christmas price index produced by PNC Bank, the cost to purchase each item named in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” song rose 2.7% in 2023. But it seems that’s a savings compared with last year’s 10.5% increase.

While the origins of the Christmas anthem go back hundreds of years, this is the 40th year of the whimsical PNC Christmas price index.

And if you’re wondering how much it’d set you back to give your true love one set of each of the gifts given in the song, that’d be $46,729.86. You can blame it on the 10 lords-a-leaping, the most expensive at an estimated $14,539, while the two turtle doves were hardest hit by inflation, up 25%.

But can you really put a price on gifts for loved ones? Happy holiday shopping.

 Springfield Business Journal Editorial Vice President Eric Olson can be reached at eolson@sbj.net.

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