New browsers that make use of artificial intelligence (AI) technology could permanently change how customers search for cars online, says iVendi.

AI is now being incorporated into Microsoft’s Edge browser and Bing search engine, as well as the long-established Opera browser, while there are persistent reports that Google will soon make increased use of AI using its Bard chatbot.

James Tew, CEO of the motor retail technology company, iVendi, explained: “Many people are now familiar with ChatGPT, which was launched late last year and has created a definite stir in terms of showing what AI is now capable of. Essentially, it delivers long-form, natural speech responses to all kinds of questions rather than just listing website links in the same way as a traditional browser. It has definite potential to bring new approaches to online search.

“Microsoft has licensed ChatGPT technology to be incorporated into its search and browser products and, while no one is talking seriously about Google’s grasp on this part of the market being threatened, AI does represent the first potential step change in online search technology for many years, perhaps decades.

“It’s still very much unclear whether AI-enhanced search will provide an experience that is good enough to persuade customers to change their preferred search engine, but there is also the chance that if it does prove effective, it could change how users approach retail, including cars.”

Tew of iVendi said that anyone who hadn’t tried ChatGPT should sign up to experience the technology, which is free, in order to get a feel for its strengths and weaknesses.

“Most people who have tried ChatGPT agree that it is in some ways deeply impressive and, in others, quite flawed. Its answers to all kinds of questions are very detailed and the language used is generally quite clear. However, it uses information drawn from the internet as a database, so it is only as accurate as its source data, which is quite often wrong.

“Currently, if you ask it a specific question about looking for a car – for example, a particular model of a particular age in a particular area – you will receive only generic responses about shopping for a used vehicle. However, it is clear that the format is, at least in theory, capable of answering detailed queries of this kind in a format attractive to customers. It’ll be very much a question of where the people creating the AI want to take the technology in the future.”

The biggest change resulting from AI would be if search allowed a browser to be used to effectively answer questions such as, “Find me a 2018 Ford Fiesta within 15 miles of Cardiff” or “Find me cars that can carry seven people with finance at less than £300 a month”.

“If AI-enhanced search at some point produces meaningful responses to these questions, it will allow traditional car search portals to be potentially sidestepped, taking the consumer straight from the search to the dealer. This would obviously change the journey currently undertaken by many customers.”

Tew pointed to the success of iVendi’s natural language online car search, which is now being used in more than half of the instances where it is offered by dealers. The technology – which was introduced by the company in 2021 – allows users to employ everyday phrases in place of traditional drop-down menus.

“This is not, strictly speaking, an AI product, but does provide a genuine progression from old-school car search. Instead of being restricted to the menus offered in old-school filter search, you can express your needs in natural language – such as ‘blue or grey medium SUV’ or ‘economical hatchback under £8,000’ and the technology will deliver appropriate results.”

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