Given all the emphasis on the potential for voice assistants in commerce, it was inevitable that the capability would come to the ecommerce fulfillment center, and ShippingEasy has done so with a new Alexa skill that integrates with its shipping software.
With the skill developed by ShippingEasy, fulfillment center associates can give Alexa voice commands or query their smartphones or an Echo speaker for things like topping up a postage balance, printing shipping labels or packing slips, getting shipping rate quotes and handling carrier selection, and accessing real-time order information to ensure the right item is picked and packed.
Examples of voice queries to Alexa via ShippingEasy include things like “How many orders do I have?,” “What is my oldest order?”, “What is the destination?”, “What is my rate quote?” and “Who is the carrier?”
The Alexa application makes perfect sense in an environment where so many workers are already used to making regular voice commands to their device each day. It’s a new wrinkle on existing technologies like voice-directed picking.
Katie May, CEO of ShippingEasy, acquired by Stamps.com in 2016, said the new capability was beta tested at 17 client locations in the Austin, TX area, as well as some in other remote locations. Many came back asking what other functions it could handle, and wanting to ditch shipping station keyboards and barcode scanners altogether. More will be developed as adoption expands and use cases arise, May said.
She said leveraging voice can both save ecommerce shippers on labor and makes the fulfillment process more efficient. Developing the software and having the Alexa skill certified by Amazon took about six months.
“Anything that used to be sequential (associates) can now do in parallel, leveraging voice as part of the process,” May said. “In the past, if someone is done picking, they hand you a bin, you put the item in the box and tape it, then go to the computer and print a label and sent the box down the line. Today you can tell Alexa to print the label as you tape the box.”
May said the beta testing was mostly done in Austin, home to ShippingEasy, so members of its customer success team could observe in a live environment how the Alexa skill was being used.
“We wanted to see if they would query it in a way we didn’t anticipate, as well as understand new use cases,” she said. “As new companies decide to leverage the skill, we can provide them with guidance from real-world activity.”