Amazon eases voice shopping with new Alexa-enabled hardware

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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The e-tail giant’s 2019 devices event included shopping-friendly wearables and a major in-car Alexa integration.

Among the slew of new hardware devices Amazon announced as part of its Sept. 25 devices event were several products that could expand the use of its Alexa voice assistant as a shopping tool.

Echo Buds are wireless earbuds equipped with Amazon Echo smart speaker technology and Bose Active Noise Reduction technology to minimize background sounds.

Among other uses, Amazon is promoting Echo Buds as a mobile voice shopping device. “We worked with the Whole Foods team to make this experience really delightful in store,” Amazon said in its devices event blog post. “For example, you'll be able to ask Alexa if Whole Foods has canned tomatoes in stock, as well as where you can find canned tomatoes.”

Amazon is also releasing Echo Frames – 31-gram, Alexa-enabled glasses that look like regular prescription glasses (without a prescription, but customers can add one). Without camera or display, Echo Frames provide all-day access to Alexa.

Echo Frames will offer the same optimized Whole Foods shopping experience as Echo Buds, and will provide another wearable access point for consumers to shop via Alexa voice assistant technology.

In addition, General Motors (GM) is the first automaker to deliver a fully embedded Alexa experience based on the Alexa Auto software development kit (SDK), across all four of its brands – Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC. GM will embed Alexa in brand new vehicles and also make it available to millions of existing vehicles on the road with an over-the-air update. This embedded functionality creates new opportunities for consumers to shop from their car.

Currently, Alexa-enabled voice shopping is primarily used for Amazon purchases, including for the AmazonFresh ultrafast fresh product delivery service and Amazon subsidiaries such as Whole Foods.

“We’re still in the very early days of virtual assistants and voice interfaces,” said Frank Gillett, VP & principal analyst at Forrester. “Unlike past user interfaces like the Mac’s visual GUI or the iPhones touch interface, voice interfaces are complements or new front ends to existing applications in way that makes them dependent on integration with other applications.”