Designing Skills for ISP, Part 5: Providing Access to Purchases

Alison Atwell Feb 20, 2020
Design Tips & Tools Make Money Tutorial

Editor’s Note: We have changed the name of the Alexa skill in our beginner tutorial from Cake Walk to Cake Time given the term’s racially insensitive history.

Editor's Note: This series is based on our new Alexa Skills course, How to Design for In-Skill Purchasing. This free course outlines the best practices for designing a great monetized Alexa skill experience.


Welcome to Part 5 of our series on designing skills with in-skill purchasing! In Part 1 we discussed how to plan and scope a skill for three kinds of in-skill purchases. In Parts 2 and 3, we discussed where we should surface upsells so customers can discover those purchases and shared some best practices for writing effective messages that describe your product. In Part 4, we showed you how to handle transactions & transitions.

Now, let’s assume that we’ve designed our skill to surface well-written upsells that led to a conversion and our customer has made a purchase. That’s great! Now, how are they going to be able to access and use their purchases when they want? Because a customer can neither see nor touch what’s available for purchase (or what they’ve already purchased), a skill will need to offer easy access to that information. We have another design problem to solve!

What Counts as "Access"?

When we say a customer will need easy access to their purchases, the use cases a skill should support will depend on the type of ISP your skill will offer. You can review the ISP types in Part I of our series. Depending on the purchase type, a skill may need one, or even many, “access points” for a customer to reach the content or experience they paid for quickly and easily.

Subscriptions, because they unlock content and skills often can’t be used at all until a customer subscribes, are the simplest in terms of access. When a specific customer is flagged as “entitled” after they subscribe, the skill would simply offer more content than before. For example, instead of receiving a message that they’ll need to subscribe, TuneIn Live customers who have subscribed receive a new welcome message that tells customers what kinds of content they can ask for: “Welcome back to TuneIn Live. You can ask me for a team, a league, or a station. Which would you like?”

Our hypothetical skill, Seattle Super Trivia, which we’ve been designing throughout the series, is going to offer subscribers double the number of questions they get to play in the daily challenge. After the player finishes the first five questions of the daily challenge, they’ll receive a message that it’s time to play their bonus round for subscribers. We don’t have to do that, but it’s nice to remind the player of the benefits of their subscription with something like: “You’re really killing it today! Here's your bonus round for the day. Sixth question …”

One-time purchases are bought once by the customer and persist in the skill. They can play and replay the content at any time. That means they’ll need a way to ask Alexa for that purchase any time.

If Seattle Super Trivia were to offer its packs as one-time purchases, the customer will need a way to play, save progress, and finish their packs. We’ll also need to account for customers who purchased multiple packs that are in many states of completion. We’re going to let customers access their purchases at a few key points:

1. Immediately after purchasing a pack
We certainly want to give them the option to play right after they’ve purchased the pack: “Now you’re ready to really get to know Seattle! Ready to dive into your shiny, new ‘History of Seattle’ super pack?” When a player asks to play a pack, our response will depend on how many packs they’ve purchased. When a player with one pack asks to play it, our job is easy: “There are 13 of 50 questions left in your ‘History of Seattle’ super pack. Want to play it?”

2. Upon completion of free daily content
We’ll also want to remind the player that their trivia experience doesn’t have to end with the free daily game by offering something they’ve purchased after they’ve played the daily challenge: “You nailed today’s challenge with a perfect score. Nice work! You can keep this trivia train rolling with your ‘Seattle Sports Superstars’ pack. It has 13 of 50 questions left. Want to play it?”

3. Upon requesting a previously purchased pack
When a player with multiple packs asks to play one, we’ll have to decide how many of those packs to offer at once, and in what order. You might find your players want to skip around and finish packs in small sprints, in which case we might say something like: You have a few packs, including ‘History of Seattle,’ ‘Seattle Sports Superstars,’ ‘Celebrities of Seattle,’ and more. What would you like to play?” Of course we don’t have to present a menu: Instead, we could make an educated guess at which pack they’re most likely to want, based on which is nearly complete or recently played. If the customer declines it, we can read them a few more of their packs at a time to choose from, like this:

If the player has multiple packs, we should offer the one they played most recently. If they decline, we’ll tell them about a few more packs at a time. For example:

Customer: Ask Seattle Super Trivia to play one of my packs
Alexa: Welcome back to Seattle Super Trivia. You last played your Seattle Celebrity pack. You have 15 of 50 questions left. Want to play it?
Customer: No.
Alexa: You have 6 more packs, including Ultimate History with 50 questions, Architecture Extravaganza with 30 questions, Ancient Peoples with 100 questions, and more. What would you like to play?
Customer: People!
Alexa: Starting your Seattle Super Trivia Ancient Peoples pack…

Consumables are meant to be used once in the skill. A customer might want or need to use their purchase right away, or they might want to save it for later. They may be able to purchase multiple consumables for use later. Expect your customers to ask how much of the consumable they have or have remaining.

Like Volley’s Yes Sire, your use case might mean the consumable is used right away. Once a player exceeds either their maximum wealth or influence in their quest to make decisions for their kingdom without angering the King, Yes Sire players may purchase a consumable, either help from someone to reset your wealth score, or help to reset your influence score. The player’s “life” is spared and their score is reset immediately.

In Seattle Super Trivia, we’ll follow a different model to allow players to “stock up” on hints to our trivia answers. That means we’ll need to support players asking to use a hint any time during game play and asking how many hints they have left. We’ll also need to be transparent about when the player is using their free daily hint or drawing hints from a bundle of hints they bought:

Alexa: “In what year did Washington’s first college, the University of Washington, open in Seattle – was it: A. 1920; B. 1861, or C. 1790?”
Player: “I need a hint”
Alexa: “Ok, here’s your free hint for the day. You have four hints left. The University of Washington was founded in the same century that Washington was made a state. Do you think it was A. 1920; B. 1861, or C. 1790?”

We’re also going to remind players they can use a hint they’ve purchased when they take a particularly long time to answer a question:

Alexa: “In what year did Washington’s first college, the University of Washington, open in Seattle – was it: A. 1920; B. 1861, or C. 1790?”
Player: “repeat”
Alexa: “In what year did Washington’s first college, the University of Washington, open in Seattle – was it: A. 1920; B. 1861, or C. 1790?”
Player: <no response>
Alexa: “You still have a free hint today, and 5 hints total. Do you want to use your free hint?”

And if we’re going to let customers stockpile purchases they can “consume” later, we’ll need to be clear when a skill lets a customer make decisions that “spend” something they purchased (here, their hints). Our prompts should be explicit that resource will be spent, as we were in the above examples. Failure to do so could confuse and break trust with customers. Here are some examples of Do's and Don'ts:

Don’t: Spend resources without permission


Do: Ask permission before using a consumable


Whether the skill uses consumables or one-time purchases, if we allow customers to purchase items or content for use later, they should be able to ask what they have to get a quick inventory. At minimum, the skill will need to support questions like “What did I buy?” (discussed below), but we should also support more natural utterances where possible. For example, a children’s game might offer a purchase “inventory” if they ask for their “backpack.” A player in an adventure game might ask for their “supplies.” Whatever methods we choose to remind customer of and surface their purchases, we don’t want to confuse them about what content is free versus what they paid for, and we don’t want to mislead the customer into thinking they have less content than they paid for. After the purchase, it might be necessary to remind customers how to use it later.

Keep in mind that a customer may have a LOT of purchases to sort through. Which of these trivia pack libraries do you think is easiest to navigate?

Don’t: Randomly offer up previously purchased content


Do: Offer content based upon what was most recently purchased


"What Can I Buy? What Did I Buy?"

Since a customer is able to make purchases in their skill using their voice, they’ll expect to use their voices to ask about those purchases. Skills, at minimum, should provide an answer to customers who ask “What can I buy?” or, after they’ve purchased, “What did I buy?”

If a customer asks “What can I buy?,” the skill should offer a brief description of the available products for purchase. It may deliver an explicit upsell in response (highly recommended for skills with only one product for purchase, such as a subscription), or a general description (recommended for skills with consumables intended for use in real-time game play).

If a customer asks “What did I buy?” reply by listing packs of purchased content, describing the benefits of a subscription, or listing an “inventory” of consumable items. If the customer has made more than a few purchases, send a card to their Alexa app to tell them more about their purchase history and/or how to find their full purchase history. If the customer has purchased all your content offerings and they ask, “What can I buy?” it would be great to let them know they’ve purchased everything presently available and then follow-up with a summary of what they own.

Now we’ve designed and delivered upsells for compelling in-skill purchases to help customers get further delight from your skill, and made sure they can easily ask for and use those purchases. Stay tuned for Part 6 of this series, where we’ll provide a recap of the top ten tips for designing in-skill purchasing.

More Resources to Enhance Your Alexa Skills

We recommend you continue your learning by checking out these additional training materials: