Online grocery retailer Ocado is the first UK supermarket to launch an app for Alexa. The new Ocado Alexa skill lets users add groceries to their existing shopping lists, check their orders before submitting and track their deliveries.
Creating a Voice First Experience
In order to build a seamless voice experience, the Technology team first had to build an Ocado Conversational Service, which uses artificial intelligence to determine a customer’s preferences based on related and previously bought items in their shopping carts. The company claims they have trained Alexa to recognize the top 15,000 commonly searched items from their website. The skill then uses an AI-based algorithm to identify what product the user is searching for. Ocado also recognized that talking to Alexa about an order would require what they call a “bi-directional conversational flow” which enables the skill to continue engaging with the user even if an item cannot be found or ordered:
“However, if the item is out of stock, unavailable or cannot be found, the Ocado skill will not only offer the appropriate notification but can also make alternative suggestions; “Sorry the Cathedral City mature cheddar you usually buy is out of stock. How about trying the Ocado organic mature cheddar instead?”
Getting Ahead of Amazon
The new Alexa skill does not let users create a new list – they can only add to an existing one. It also doesn’t let them place the actual order. But the designed use case here is to let Ocado customers easily add items to their shopping cart while their hands are busy in the kitchen – and to stay ahead of Amazon. Amazon’s recent acquisition of Whole Foods doesn’t have quite the impact in the UK as it does in the United States. There are only a handful of Whole Foods Markets in the UK and the AmazonFresh grocery delivery service is only available in London at this time. Amazon Prime members can order items through Alexa in the UK but that does not include everything a typical grocery store provides. According to Ocada, their own research “has shown that many Ocado customers also want to use voice-controlled smart assistants for grocery shopping.” Ocada’s Alexa skill may not be an end-to-end complete voice shopping service, but it is one step closer to giving their customers what they want. And for now, one step ahead of Amazon.