Ocado Creates a Seamless Voice Shopping Experience through Rigorous Testing and Customer Focus

Billie Heath Jun 11, 2018

Ocado is the world's largest online-only supermarket and a popular brand among British consumers. When Amazon Echo and Alexa launched in the UK, Ocado saw the opportunity to reach their customers in new ways. After months of rigorous user testing, the developers at Ocado Technology have created a skill that creates a seamless shopping experience via voice.

“Ocado identified voice as a primary focus area for innovation,” says James Dimmock, Software Development Manager at Ocado Technology and one of the two skill developers. “We know voice is a rapidly growing space, which gives us the opportunity to interact with customers in brand new areas and scenarios like the kitchen and their cars.”

Ocado believes that voice is key to taking their customer experience to a new level and offering customers more choice.

“Customers have quickly adopted online grocery shopping on their mobile devices. Voice is the most natural way to go beyond that,” says Dimmock.

Using Voice to Streamline the Online Shopping Experience

Dimmock and his team wanted to design a skill that created a new shopping experience, with a focus on helping the customer. For example, previously if a customer ran out of cheese and needed to add some to their order, they would have to find their phone or laptop, log in to the Ocado website, find the product they wanted, and select to add it. Now it’s as simple as saying "Alexa, ask Ocado to add cheddar to my trolley."

With the Ocado skill, customers can use their voice to add to and remove items from future orders or orders they’ve already completed. They can also ask for updates on order status and ask what’s in season.

The skill has also made online shopping more accessible for visually impaired customers. Dimmock says they’ve received feedback from customers about how the voice experience has empowered them and helped them feel more independent.

Careful Development and Rigorous User Testing

Dimmock built the first prototype for the skill in a weekend, although his team spent six months on user testing to gather feedback and optimize the voice experience before launch. They also gained valuable voice design feedback from Amazon along the way to help them refine the voice user interface.

"We collaborated closely with the Amazon team to define and improve our conversational user experience and voice model from the very beginning,” says Dimmock.

The Ocado team also used customer feedback to improve the voice experience. Dimmock says that this is a continuous process, as they are still refining and improving the skill based on feedback they gather through customer surveys and reviews.

“You will get a lot of feedback, some negative, but you should see it as constructive,” says Dimmock. “It’s an opportunity to improve the skill.”

Reaching New Customers with Voice

In addition to rigorous user testing, skill marketing has been key to driving user engagement for the Ocado skill. The team has used a combination of online and offline marketing channels, focusing heavily on sending emails to their customers and advertising the skill in customer-facing material. They also use their website to promote the skill.

In-skill marketing has also been valuable to educate customers on the things they can do with the Alexa skill, which is particularly helpful as new functionality becomes available. For example, when a customer ends a session, Alexa will suggest new things that they can ask for next time they use the skill.

Looking to the Future

Ocado’s skill is just the beginning and marks the early days of voice and voice-first grocery shopping coming together to create magical experiences for customers. Dimmock’s team has also worked with Morrisons, one of the retailers using Ocado’s technology to power their online grocery business, to build a similar skill.

“We definitely view voice as a fast-growing and emerging technology. We see it as an opportunity to prepare for the future of voice-first shopping,” says Dimmock. “At this stage, we’re learning how to best take advantage of Alexa and build smarter interfaces for voice.”