ChatGPT’s new brand integration brings commerce to AI

Kayak, OpenTable, Klarna and Slack among the brands testing the feature.

ChatGPT’s new brand integration brings commerce to AI

A new ChatGPT feature being tested by brands could turn the AI bot into the next big app store, said Matthias Keller, chief scientist at travel site Kayak.

Kayak is one of a select few marketers invited by OpenAI to pilot plugins, which enable ChatGPT to invoke a company’s services when handling a user’s query.

Since OpenAI announced the pilot last week, Keller has been fielding calls from other brands eager to get their own businesses involved. The allure is simple: Plugins offer brands a way to be built inside ChatGPT, granting them exposure to the millions of users who have already taken to the AI model, and the millions more who will likely do so in the future.

For example, using Kayak’s plugin, a user could ask ChatGPT to help them book a trip to Los Angeles, and the model will subsequently integrate information from Kayak’s website and arrange the desired travel. When it’s time to pay, the user will be redirected to the Kayak website with their trip in cart.

We’ve added initial support for ChatGPT plugins — a protocol for developers to build tools for ChatGPT, with safety as a core design principle. Deploying iteratively (starting with a small number of users & developers) to learn from contact with reality:

— Greg Brockman (@gdb) March 23, 2023

A plugin works like an application programming interface (API), such that a brand allows parts of its database to be accessed by ChatGPT, thus becoming the bot’s “eyes and ears,” per OpenAI’s announcement. Each plugin will be clearly branded for users and live inside a single menu, from which they will need to be installed before their services can be used.

This is why Keller compared the feature at large to a burgeoning app store. OpenAI has so far invited 12 brands to create a plugin, including Expedia, OpenTable (a sibling brand of Kayak's), Klarna, Shopify and Slack, and plans to expand access to both third parties and users over time.

Incorporating databases

Fintech company Klarna started developing its plugin with OpenAI several months ago. Users who install the API will be able to ask ChatGPT for product recommendations, which can be bound by specificities that are beyond the scope of most traditional search bars. For example, a feasible request could be, “What are five popular, lightweight speakers that I can buy for less than $300?”

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To be clear, ChatGPT will not extrapolate more data than a company has; it will only leverage the company’s existing data to perform intelligent tasks. 

“One of the big competitive advantages for companies will be who has big, proprietary databases,” said David Sandström, Klarna’s chief marketing officer.

Klarna’s business depends on comparing prices between thousands of retailers. Sourcing and storing data from every partner is therefore crucial to the recommendations it provides. The better the recommendations that ChatGPT can pull from Klarna’s API, the more helpful the plugin will be to users.

Similarly, OpenTable relies on providing data on reservations from thousands of restaurants, with the added variable that this data is subject to change every hour. ChatGPT could offer a more conversational experience for making reservations, such as by providing recommendations based on user responses to various questions, said Susan Lee, chief growth officer at OpenTable. But this can only happen if OpenTable is able to consistently pair data with consumers’ requests.

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Marketers should not underestimate the value in audience reach by pairing with ChatGPT. The generative AI bot has become the fastest-growing consumer internet app in history, reaching 100 million users in roughly two months. Meanwhile, marketers are eager to integrate the technology into their businesses—from traditional brands such as Coca-Cola to tech platforms like Snap and Discord. A chance to be built within the bot could prove even more valuable.

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Plugins are also a major sign of OpenAI’s interest in making ChatGPT more commercially friendly. The model has hitherto been used for all kinds of tasks, but not in ways that are specific to driving revenue goals. ChatGPT’s knowledge is also limited to 2021 data. Plugins offer a way forward.

OpenTable’s Lee hopes that ChatGPT will soon be able to leverage brands’ databases in more ways, such as for internal practices. She sees her clients benefitting from automation in tasks like staffing or menu writing.

Klarna’s Sandström also has high hopes for the plugin store, particularly because most companies can benefit from ChatGPT’s ability to structure unstructured information.

“It will blow my mind if this isn’t used widely in every industry in the next 18 months,” he said.

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