“Customers want to be free from their phones”: Why Uber Eats enabled hands-free order tracking with Alexa

Staff Writer May 04, 2023
Alexa Skills

Uber announced that consumers can now experience hands-free order tracking with Alexa to track the status of Uber Eats restaurant orders in the United States. Consumers will be able to get updates on the status of their Uber Eats orders on their Echo devices, bringing convenience and effortlessness, no matter where they are. 

Ethan Hollinshead is a lead product manager at Uber Eats. In his role, Hollinshead is focused on creating delightful customer experiences outside of the core Uber Eats app. These include the voice command integrations with Google Assistant and Siri . They also include custom experiences developed in collaboration with partners such as the Yankees Stadium, where fans can now order ahead through Uber Eats, skip the line for food and beverages, and even get food delivered directly to their seat while watching a game. 

In this conversation, Hollinshead talks about the Uber Eats integration with Alexa, how hands-free order tracking gives Uber a competitive edge, and his vision for the future of ambient computing.

Why did Uber Eats pursue a technical integration with Alexa?

Our team spends a lot of time talking to customers to understand their experience ordering through mobile phones, and how we could help better that experience. We found that our customers want to spend less time on their phones. They want to place their order without feeling tethered to their phone, so that they can move on to cleaning up, playing with their kids, or doing whatever else needs doing in their lives. We received suggestions from our customers who were saying stuff like, “It would be great if my devices could talk to me, so that I don’t have to worry about missing my delivery driver.” 

Now with the Alexa integration, they can do just that. Customers who have an Echo device at home can turn on the feature through their Uber Eats app. When customers enable voice notifications, Alexa will start to provide timely updates on critical points in the delivery process. Alexa will let them know when their food is ready, when it’s out for delivery, and when their delivery driver is at their residence. Alexa will also let them know if something changes with their order, including the rare case that their order gets canceled. With Alexa, customers don’t have to be glued to their phone in order to closely monitor their order.

The Alexa integration provides Uber Eats with a competitive advantage. The more we can connect customers to a wide range of technologies, the more likely they are to stick with that service. In addition, we believe that providing delightful experiences will be instrumental in getting customers to increase their engagement with Uber Eats. 

What were some of the customizations you wanted to enable with your Alexa integration?

We wanted to keep the bar really high for every facet of the user experience. Right from the time you turn on the feature, we wanted to make sure that hands-free order tracking was a pleasant and intuitive experience for our customers, as opposed to something that was in their face.     

We also worked closely with Amazon to turn on the feature at an order level. While we considered turning on the feature at an account level—where customers would automatically receive updates for all of their orders, all of the time—it came with some risky downsides. 

For example, imagine a customer who has placed an order for a sandwich, but forgot they had turned on hands-free notifications with Alexa. And now imagine that they had a sleeping baby at home. Or imagine a scenario where someone places an order while traveling, only to have Alexa provide notifications to everyone back home. 

So there were a lot of good reasons to start slow, and it was great to work with a customer-obsessed company like Amazon, and figure all of this out. 

What’s your vision for the future of ambient computing?

At Uber Eats, our strategy is to make sure that we are aware of the latest trends, and that we are taking advantage of them. Over the last two decades or so, purchasing in general has moved from catalogs to phones to desktops to mobile phones. But there’s no reason to suppose that this represents some kind of natural end state. We see a lot of data from customers telling us they want to spend less time on their phones. They want to be free from their devices, and here’s where I think you’ll really see an explosion in the adoption of ambient experiences. We are going to see technology do more than just give order updates, and do more, like knowing your favorite foods and ordering them on your behalf. We can’t build experiences like these on our own, and are really grateful for the collaboration with Amazon.

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