Alexa Hones Voice-Activated Skills With ‘Consumables’


Amazon is rolling out new commerce capabilities for its Alexa voice assistant. The company is offering in-skill purchasing with a product dubbed Consumables. By using the function, developers will be able to sell products that are “in the moment” for consumers. That is, a player in a trivia game might be stuck on a question. A developer could, in turn, create a Consumable to offer a consumer a hint.

According to the Amazon Alexa blog, Consumables can “keep your customers engaged during pivotal moments of your skill and drive revenue for your voice business.” That is, something that can only be enjoyed a few times, or, according to one definition, “items which are intended to be bought, used, and then replaced.” In the world of consumer goods, a consumable could be a pack of candy bars or ice cream sandwiches. For Alexa, Amazon sees them as an “in-skill product that customers can purchase, use, and then purchase again.”

In terms of applications of Consumables with Alexa, Amazon said that Alexa developers tend to use the feature within the game and trivia space. A voice game called Would You Rather for Family, for instance, has a free skill version that offers general questions. But, the developer monetized the game through a premium version that offers themed questions with categories such as superheroes. To access that content, the developer offers a 7-day pass. And, after that time, consumers access will revert back to the free content.

Beyond the trivia game, Volley has monetized its Yes Sire game by allowing consumers to purchase points. The game offers “difficult decisions with consequences that impact your wealth and influence” and scores players on a scale of 0 to 100. In the event that a player’s score falls to zero, the game will end. The user can, however, purchase a Consumable — 50 extra points — to maintain gameplay. Consumables don’t have to be related to entertainment, however. Health apps, for instance, are making use of Consumables as well. Innomore’s Hypno Therapist, in particular, sells a bundle of 10 hypnotherapy sessions.

To make all of these commerce possibilities come to fruition, Amazon said that developers can use the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) Command-Line Interface (CLI) to create and manage Consumables. But Amazon also noted that developers can use Voice Apps and Storyline tools to build skills with Consumables for both subscriptions and one-time purchases. With those tools, Amazon claims that all users can create skills, “from people with zero coding experience to advanced developers,” suggesting that even a novice can monetize Alexa skills.

Rewarding Developers

Commerce is not new to Amazon’s Alexa. In May, Amazon announced the availability of in-skill purchasing for Alexa skills in the U.S. That service was announced back in November of last year, but it was only available to a handful of voice app developers at that time. In an Amazon blog post, Jeff Blankenburg, a self-described Alexa Evangelist on LinkedIn, said developers can now make money by selling digital content that enhances an Alexa skill, such as game products, interactive stories and new features.

At the time, it was announced that in-skill purchasing supports one-time purchases to unlock access to features and content in a skill and subscriptions that offer access to premium features or content for a predetermined amount of time. Yet the company noted that skills will continue to be free for customers, enabling them to assess the quality of the skill and understand the product or service before purchasing it via a voice command. When it comes to cost, developers set the list price for the in-skill product and will get 70 percent of the list price before Amazon offers a discount to Prime customers. In addition to in-skill purchases, Amazon said developers can make money via Alexa Developer Rewards.

How does that work in practice? In May, Amazon announced that kid skills published in the U.K. and Germany were eligible to earn Alexa Developer Rewards. Last year Alexa began supporting kid skills in these locations, allowing developers to create educational experiences for kids under the age of 16, using the Alexa Skills Kits. Andrea Muttoni of Amazon wrote in a blog post at the time, “If your skill is getting some of the highest customer engagement in any of the eight eligible categories — which now include kids — you can earn money each month. The most engaging kid skills will start earning rewards in June.”

Alexa Developer Rewards was launched last year so developers could earn money for skills customers love and use the most in the U.S., U.K. and Germany. The rewarded skills need to be in any of eight eligible skill categories, including Education & Reference, Food & Drink, Games, Trivia & Accessories, Health & Fitness, Kids, Lifestyle, Music & Audio and Productivity.

Amazon has paid millions of dollars to developers in 23 countries, showing that commerce and voice assistants can be a revenue-generating combination. However, it has yet to be seen how edible consumers will find Consumables to be.