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Ocado launches voice-driven shopping app for Amazon Alexa

Online supermarket’s Amazon Echo application aims to give consumers a simple, seamless retail experience

Ocado has launched an application for Amazon Echo that will enable its customers to shop using the Alexa voice service. 

The online retailer has launched the app for Amazon Echo’s voice-controlled assistant to allow consumers to perform tasks such as adding or removing items from shopping lists and tracking orders. 

Lawrence Hene, marketing and commercial director at Ocado, said the app is aimed at consumers who increasingly expect a simple, seamless retail experience. 

“Consumer demand for increasingly convenient ways to shop is growing rapidly and we are excited to be the first supermarket in the UK to offer this technology, making customers’ lives ever easier.”

As technology enables people to live more flexibly, omni-channel is growing, with consumers expecting more from retailers and service providers, such as a personalised experience, 24-hour service and consistency across all channels. 

Ocado’s e-commerce arm launched the “Ocado skill” for Alexa after research found that consumers wanted to shop by voice.

The artificial intelligence (AI)-based “conversational service” can help customers shop by speaking to Alexa, which can perform tasks such as suggesting items for a consumer’s shopping list based on previous orders. 

The Ocado app will also allow consumers to add products to an existing basket or order, get advice on recipes, check existing orders, keep track of orders and confirm how long they have to amend an existing order. 

Ocado’s tech remit, Ocado Technology, built the app to work conversationally, with customers able to use more natural phrases to add items to a basket or check a current Ocado order, as well as ensure Alexa has the correct responses to requests. For example, if an item is out of stock, Alexa can suggest an alternative. 

Currently, Alexa can recognise 15,000 of the most commonly ordered products on the Ocado platform, and when a consumer gives Alexa a command, it is passed to the Ocado skill, which is based in Amazon Web Services (AWS) and uses AI-based algorithms to identify the item the consumer is most likely to want.

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Ocado hopes that hosting the app in AWS will allow rapid scaling in the future should new conversational phrases need to be added or developed. 

The app adds to the digital grocer’s existing channels, which include online, smartphone apps and smartwatch apps. 

Although Ocado claims to be the first supermarket to launch an app for Alexa, it is not the first retailer to consider how consumers may want to shop in the future. 

During a demo of a future “foodtech” online delivery service, Just Eat announced the launch of its Amazon Alexa service, which enables consumers to order food from local restaurants. 

But Ocado has been ahead of the curve in recent years, most recently completing a two-week trial of self-driving vans, which the firm believes could make online deliveries more efficient. 

It has also invested heavily in machine learning to provide a better service to its customers and make its warehouses more efficient, and has developed robotic arms to sort goods at its fulfilment centres. 

But although these developments have seen Ocado’s orders increase, some observers feel it may actually be too far ahead of the tech curve, focusing too much on the future and not enough on the fundamentals of grocery shopping. 

Other retailers have attempted to stay ahead of the tech curve by forming partnerships to bypass legacy systems, either with retail technology startups or by with firms such as Ocado that are more equipped to provide the service consumers want.

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