In the race to create “the operating system of the home”, one horse is leading the pack. The Echo Show, announced recently, is already the fourth instalment in Amazon’s series of voice-controlled tech goodies. It would be a mistake to see these tools as gimmicks. Amazon, Apple and Google all realise the power of being the essential piece in a smart home. If any system can achieve this and effectively own the category, the entity behind it can realise a truly omnichannel offering of goods and services, complemented by a huge bulk of data. Alexa, the OS behind all the Echo hardware variants, represents Amazon’s bid to reach this stage. But it’s not all about enabling convenience in the home – voice-controlled tech has a wide variety of applications for businesses which might be key for improving efficiency and productivity. It’s in that spirit that we at Volo have run the Alexa Hackathon, challenging our development team to group into squads, research, and try to hack together some functioning Alexa skills with real ecommerce uses. So where would an ecommerce business use voice interfaces? 1. The Shop Floor How many times have you looked for assistance in a shop and found no one to help you? Imagine an example. A customer picks up a shoe, loves the style, but it’s not the right size for them. An Alexa-equipped virtual assistant can be asked: Are there are any size 8 blue Adidas ‘Calypso’ trainers in stock? It matches the item against the product data in Volo Origin. Let’s say there’s stock available in the warehouse. Warehouse staff can be notified of the request and the location of the stock, and the customer can be told that a staff member is on their way with their item. All very well, but what if there’s nothing matching that description in stock? Well, the assistant could look up purchase orders (which also sit within Volo Origin) in order to estimate the next time stock will be available for this item. 2. Customer Service The majority of calls most ecommerce customer service staff receive revolve around what has happened to an order. There’s a multitude of ways that smart voice-activated software integrated with an ecommerce solution could reduce the burden on staff. In future, software could automatically pick up order numbers as they’re spoken down the phone line, and immediately display all the relevant information to that order. Alternatively, a similar solution could actively take the call, asking for the order number and updating the buyer as to its status, tracking number, and actually where it is according to the courier data. This is even more information than a customer service assistant would be able to access! This might be particularly useful during peak periods when all staff are busy with other customers. Check out the demo one of our teams whipped up during the hack: 3. Stock Input Taking delivery of stock, unloading, manually entering product data and information and shelving it is a laborious task for many ecommerce businesses. If warehouse staff had only to read certain label information to a voice-activated assistant in order to check goods in and upload product data to the inventory control and warehouse management system, businesses would see a significant time saving. Even better, the assistant could direct the operative to the correct location to shelve the products. Look Forward These might seem farfetched, but actually pretty much all of the pieces of the puzzle already exist. With Volo’s end-to-end ecommerce ERP, centralising an ecommerce business into one system is already possible. Amazon’s Alexa software and API makes it possible to query databases with naturally phrased questions and receive intelligible, useful answers. Days like this Hackathon represent our effort to put those pieces together and offer customers new ways of working. Don’t just work hard, work smart, as the saying goes.