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If my Alexa Prime Day experience happened in store, I’m not sure I’d return

Amazon Alexa

The clock ticked 6pm and so Amazon’s third Prime ‘Day’ began. Marvelled for her ability to understand and adapt to our language and personal preferences, Alexa had the potential to revolutionise the Prime Day shopping experience, liberating us from boring old computers and mobile phones. What’s more, this year she promised extra treats – voice-exclusive deals and early access.

Could she live up to our expectations?

Not quite. Using Alexa to shop on Prime Day was like battling the Christmas Eve sale wearing a blindfold – not something I’d rush to repeat. But she’s far from a lost cause. Here are three ways she could (and undoubtedly will) improve.

1. Alexa, be my personal shopping assistant

Prime Day presented a marvellous opportunity for Alexa to demonstrate her prowess, but sadly she missed the mark. For example, she didn’t know that Amazon Fresh had offered me a signing-up discount on the headphones I was eyeing up via Prime. She didn’t connect that I had added a specialist gin to my wish list last week and might be interested to hear the deals on it. She didn’t understand that during the week I like my parcels delivered to work. She did offer up some products I’d looked at recently but missed the opportunity to tailor her results around my preferences.

Our best shopping experience happens when it’s informed by our preferences and previous behaviours, whenever or wherever we shop. So, as we allow Amazon to entwine itself in every part of our home lives, from groceries to the time we turn off our bedside light, Alexa is perfectly placed to help us maximise the benefits this access-all-areas brings. Knowing I bought a coffee grinder through Prime last week and suggesting I add coffee beans to my Amazon Fresh order this week would be pretty handy.

2. Alexa, help me browse as well as buy

To maximise her value, Alexa needs to help me browse using natural language and behaviours, just like a real shop assistant. On Prime Day, reasonable shopping questions yielded little but frustration. If you knew exactly (and I mean, exactly) what product you wanted she was effective at finding it and guiding you through to purchase. But try browsing what’s available (“Alexa, find me BB creams”) before narrowing down your options (by asking for comparisons) and she was at best unhelpful and at worst a barrier. She couldn’t even catch onto the word “prime”. A request to hear the latest Prime Day deals consistently returned a book about prime cuts of meat.

If the intention is for Alexa to help me browse as well as buy, brands need to work with Amazon to make sure she can find their products through natural search. They also need to make sure they appear in the top three results, since that’s all she shares. Otherwise, Alexa needs to accept her role merely as a hands-free purchase assistant when a choice has been made – an opportunity missed, but at least one she can do well today.

3. Alexa, help me visualise the products

For years we’ve shopped by looking at an item and weighing up whether it’s what we want.

Our desire to touch and feel is already a barrier to buying online, so asking us to spend our money when we’re not even able to see something is a whole other ball game. We’re prepared to take that step for goods we’re familiar with – the success of Amazon’s dash buttons is evidence of that – but if we’re in discovery mode, having voice-only assistance is a very big barrier. Imagine being in a store and only being able to buy sale items by listening to the assistant doggedly tell you their catalogue descriptions. This disadvantage is mitigated somewhat when Alexa directs you to her app to take a look, but if you need to use your mobile so early in the process, why bother asking Alexa at all?

To overcome this, she should play to her strengths. Voice is a wonderful thing and many a picture can be painted using words alone. If Alexa infused some storytelling techniques in her descriptions, people just might consider buying without using their eyes.

This largest of all barriers is clearly recognised by Amazon and can be overcome, to some extent, with Echo Show. But simply showing me a list of products on a screen won’t close the sale if she doesn’t curate the results or help me browse.

Alexa, inspire me.

Gemma Batterby is business director at Geometry Global UK.

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