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January 27, 2017Zoey Collier
Just Eat has grown a lot since its humble beginnings in a Danish basement in 2001. Now headquartered in London, Just Eat is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is the world’s leading marketplace for online food ordering and delivery. Its goal, simply put, is to revolutionize the way people find, order and enjoy food.
Just Eat is making good on that mission. Today, it connects more than 62,000 restaurants across 100 cuisines in 15 countries, with an audience of over 15 million people.
Craig Pugsley is a principal designer in Just Eat’s Product Research team. He says the UK has a long tradition of delivery and takeout meals. Just Eat’s apps let diners explore exciting new cuisines at nearby restaurants. With menus for over 27,000 restaurants in the UK alone, it’s easy to find a new favorite flavor anytime.
Research quickly showed Pugsley’s team that diners tend to order their favorites again and again. So when Amazon brought Echo and Alexa to the UK, Just Eat saw a new opportunity. The Just Eat Alexa skill would make reordering a tasty new fave even easier, with just a few words:
“Alexa, tell Just Eat to re-order Dim sum.”
No phone calls. No fumbling for a smartphone app. And no digging out credit card details. Just quick delivery of your favorite comfort food.
Food lovers use Just Eat’s mobile or web apps to find a restaurant, order anything on the menu, enter payment data and check their order status. Just Eat saves each food order, including customizations and special instructions, for future repeats. And that’s where Andy May, senior UI developer, saw an opportunity for Alexa and Echo: to make repeat ordering quicker and more natural.
Echo wasn’t yet available in the UK, but May’s team got its hands on an American model in February 2016. He admits to being dubious at first about how well the technology would work. “We'd tried other voice products, so we didn't expect Alexa to work as simply and well as it did.”
After seeing Alexa in action, Just Eat started talking to Amazon about a potential working relationship. It was then May knew a Just Eat skill was inevitable, whenever Alexa crossed the big pond.
May says the team wanted to get a skill into the hands of real users quickly. Working with Amazon and Just Eat’s customers, they identified two core areas perfectly suited to Alexa. “We always start by understanding our users’ needs. Where could we enhance what they already experience with our mobile apps and website? We quickly found use-cases where a voice interface could make common tasks faster and more delightful.”
Repeating a past order - If you already know exactly what you want, just say “Alexa, tell Just Eat to re-order Dim sum.” If you’re not sure, Alexa can tell you options from previous orders. Either way, just a few voice commands later, and the food is on its way.
Checking order status - A simple “Alexa, ask Just Eat where’s my food?” retrieves the order information from the restaurant. Alexa can tell you if the restaurant received the order, if the food is on its way and an estimated time of delivery.
May’s team then applied its established build-measure-learn research process, a lean product development cycle popularized by The Lean Startup.
Build – The team used Amazon’s developer console to prototype a potential voice user interaction (VUI). Without touching a line of code, the research team quickly created a MVP (minimum viable product) representing their proposed solution.
Measure – It then conducted research sessions with real users, quickly validating (or invalidating) the initial assumptions. (Initially, they used role-play techniques to ‘act out’ Alexa responses to users’ requests.)
Learn – It then gathered user feedback to improve and refine the VUI assumptions.
After several rounds of the cycle, the team landed on a prototype that would become the first version of the Just Eat Alexa skill. The build-measure-learn technique prevented spending excess time and resources on invalid assumptions, and ensured the team worked only on solutions that met users’ actual needs.
The process also helped Just Eat simplify the VUI. They created an initial flow diagram, but the interaction became a challenge to manage. “We worked closely with Amazon to keep things simple. We found we were trying to over-complicate the VUI.”
Some of their advice for developing a VUI?
The Amazon Echo—and the Just Eat skill—launched in late September in the UK. From the start, skill analytics shows a great many people order and check their order status via the Alexa skill. “Of course, customers using Alexa are reordering, too, so we get customer retention,” says Pugsley. “Retention is everything.”
May says he’s certain Alexa will help keep Just Eat’s core business strong. “People’s behaviors are migrating from touch-based interfaces to voice-based ones. That’s why voice is such a core part of our strategy going forward. Alexa is such a natural way to start.”
So… Alexa, ask Just Eat, where’s my food?
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