Meet Alfie, Searsí voice-controlled shopping assistant

June 20, 2016 

CHICAGO ó Alexa, meet Alfie.

Sears Holdings, based in suburban Chicago, appears to have introduced a "voice-controlled intelligent shopper" that bears more than a passing resemblance to Amazonís Echo Dot smart speaker and its Alexa virtual assistant ó albeit without the speaker and more limited features.

The Kenmore-branded device, dubbed Alfie, is being sold on Kmart and Sears websites and the retailerís Shop Your Way membership program website.

At $49.99, itís considerably cheaper than Amazonís Echo Dot at $89.99, or the Echo, which has a larger speaker and sells for $179.99.

But Alfie doesnít yet appear able to help with the range of tasks Alexa can handle.

Sears says Alfie will listen to requests and recommend products based on the userís preferences, purchase history and any specified budget. It can also search for a gift if users describe the occasion and recipient. Perishable grocery delivery is available in some areas.

Unlike with the Echo and Echo Dot, which can be addressed solely by voice, users need to push a "talk" button to start recording a request on Alfie. A button lights up when it finds a match and is ready to respond, which can take up to 10 minutes, according to a product website.

Users can also text with Alfie through an app that shows conversation history and images of suggested items, reviews and shipping options, and lets shoppers add items to a list for later.

Itís not clear how much of Alfie is artificial intelligence and how much humans are helping fill usersí shopping carts.

The product website says Alfie is "backed by real human intelligence, not just computer processing."

From the information on Searsí website, it also appears Alfie can only help with shopping. Amazonís Echo products are also speakers, and in addition to ordering a range of products from Amazon, the companyís virtual assistant, Alexa, can control music and smart home devices, answer questions and order you an Uber or a Dominoís pizza.

Google announced a speaker and virtual assistant last month, called Google Home, that the company says will be able to answer questions and control music and connected home devices.

Sears is also getting into the connected home market, but the company couldnít immediately be reached for comment on whether Alfie is part of those plans. The company behind iconic appliance brand Kenmore, Craftsman tools and DieHard automotive batteries announced 75 new products yesterday, but Alfie wasnít mentioned in news releases.

Sears is introducing a range of smart-home products, including a Kenmore refrigerator that notifies owners about power outages or doors left open, and a Kenmore smart thermostat that can be adjusted remotely by smartphone and monitors energy use. The company also said it will begin selling the first Kenmore televisions and DieHard tires.



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