Discount Contact Lens taps into voice-activated shopping through Amazon Alexa Skills

Not a lot of people are shopping for things through Amazon’s Alexa, but Discount Contact Lens wants to change that and says that there is “going to be a growing” market to shop over the voice-activated virtual assistant.

Robert Drumm, director of business marketing at Discount Contact Lens, said during a phone interview that the company thought by giving Alexa a Skill to reorder contact lenses, it would make people’s lives easier and it would open the market up for more Skills to enable shopping.

“We thought it was a no-brainer to allow customers to be able to place a repeat order right as they run out,” Drumm said, adding that 25 per cent of people keep their Amazon Echo device either in their bedroom or bathroom.

Alexa can be activated through Amazon’s smart home devices. Once you have her in your home you can enable her to perform various skills, which can be found in the Amazon Alexa app. These Skills range from checking your bank balance, your health insurance, and now Drumm says Alexa should be able to have the Skill to reorder contact lenses.

The Skill was launched in early September in both the United States and Canada.

About two months ago though Tech Crunch reported that only 100,000 of Alexa owners, out of 50 million, were using the device for shopping services. The article noted that “people tend to want to look at items before buying them, to check reviews, [and] to shop around for better prices.”

Amazon responded in the article saying the numbers weren’t valid and that “millions of customers use Alexa to shop.”

Drumm says there is a growing market of users who may end up shopping on Alexa.

“I think it’s definitely going to be growing. Alexa was the number one gift last year, I have a feeling with the holidays coming up I think it’s going to be another big seller. Companies are going to have to live up and try and put something out there that customers really like,” he said.

Tom Kruk, head of IT at Discount Contact Lens, added to that and said that in the past many home devices were just a speaker, but since Amazon introduced the Echo Show, a home device with a display, “it’s easier to make orders and see an immediate response on the screen.”

“You have the display and you can see what you’re ordering, you can see the box you’re familiar with…[buyers] are more confident about placing an order,” Kurk said.

Kurk said the software was developed in-house and the team used Discount’s mobile app as a base to create the software.

“When we started working on the Alexa skill, we just had to modify [what we had] a little bit on our back-end code to make possible for that specific device,” Kurk said, adding that Amazon provided a guideline to create the Skill.

“We implemented Node JS approach, we utilized Microsoft Type-Script to create the lambda expression function and we followed the specified directions from Amazon,” Kurk added.

But what about accidentally ordering contacts when you don’t want it?

A similar situation happened in January 2017 when a six-year-old girl from the U.S. ordered a $170 dollhouse and four-pounds of sugar cookies. As the news was being reported it caused several other Echo Dots to order the items because it heard the phrase: “Alexa order me a dollhouse.”

Both Kurk and Drumm laughed and said that there are a few requirements now for developers to have if their Skill involves shopping, like having an authentication code.

“This is actually a requirement from Amazon…when you create a Skill every order, I believe that is $100 USD and up needs to have the ability to set-up a pin,” Kurk said.

Drumm said that customers normally have to set up an account on Discount and include eyesight information. After they set up the Skill “there’s also a PIN that you set-up and that prevents people from placing orders accidentally, or for kids to order without your consent.”

Asked if this Skill will be popular in Canada or elsewhere, Drumm said that “time will tell.”

“We can’t answer that right now because voice-shopping is relatively new to the world and certainly new to us,” he said.

Drumm wasn’t worried though and said that the goal was to make customers happy and if this was one more way to do that then that’s all that mattered.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Shruti Shekar
Shruti Shekar
Shruti Shekar is a video producer and reporter for IT World Canada. She was formerly a political reporter at The Hill Times and was based in Ottawa. Her beats included political culture, lobbying, telecom and technology, and the diplomatic community. She was also was the editor of The Lobby Monitor, and a reporter at The Wire Report; two trade publications that are part of The Hill Times. She received a MA in journalism from Western University and a double BA honours in communication studies and human rights from Carleton University. She was born in India, grew up mostly in Singapore and currently resides in Canada.

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