In a blog post published at the end of last month, Amazon announced a new Alexa feature that “[gives] you advanced notice on deals” and can even help purchase the item(s) if a customer so desires.
“Alexa can now proactively notify you up to 24 hours in advance of a deal becoming available for an eligible item on your wish list, in your shopping cart, or saved for later. So if you’ve had your eye on the Kindle Paperwhite, use this new feature to get advanced notice of an upcoming deal on the item from Alexa,” Amazon wrote of the feature in the post. “When this feature is enabled, you’ll see the Yellow Ring light or a pop-up notification on your Echo device. To learn more, just ask, ‘Alexa, what are my notifications?’”
While Amazon rightfully touts the convenience element of this feature, the truth is its utility runs far deeper. From an accessibility standpoint, having Alexa remind you of deals can prove especially helpful to those with cognitive delays that may cause them to forget about an item they wanted. In addition, checking the price manually via Amazon’s app or website may be too complex as far as remembering its name and whatnot. What’s more, finding a product may involve excess tapping and scrolling that could potentially be taxing in terms of fine-motor skills. That Alexa does the grunt work here in not merely convenient—it ’s accessible too. It saves a disabled person from managing the overhead of cognitive load and/or motor issues. Although seemingly minor to most abled people, the reality is these are legitimate points of friction for a disabled person that can significantly hamper the user experience—particularly if someone has multiple disabilities. Alexa can make inclusionary something nearly everyone does—order stuff from Amazon—that would otherwise be exclusionary for one reason or another.
In a broad scope, Amazon’s new deals feature is yet another reminder of Alexa’s power for good. Digital assistants like Alexa and her ilk in Siri and the Google Assistant can provide far more usefulness beyond being a fancy-pants oracle answering trivia questions and giving the current weather conditions. The cynical-yet-not-wrong view is Amazon merely wants people tied to the company’s ecosystem: using vertical integration to get people to use their ambient computer to buy things on their own store. Take the optimist’s vantage point, however, and Alexa’s voice-first nature actually makes the shopping experience better because it allows those who can’t easily use computers using traditional input methods (touch, a mouse pointer) to use Amazon in a different way. It’s a classic win-win situation, whereby Amazon wins because they can preserve the stickiness of their ecosystem, while disabled customers have a powerful, inclusive way with which to stay on top of their Amazon wishlist.
Too many technology journalists and YouTubers and armchair analysts have opinions on whose digital assistant is better; but “better” is myopically judged by sheer intelligence. Accessibility is rarely, if ever, considered. Of course Alexa must be smart enough to keep abreast of deals and alert the user. Look at what Alexa does in the abstract for people with disabilities, though, and it’s not hard to see how these voice-first interfaces can be far more impactful than simple convenience.
Alexa’s deals notification feature is available now.