UK advertising regulators cleared a TV ad this week, one made by Amazon that caused an Echo smart speaker to buy cat food without permission, according to a viewer. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) investigated, and then dismissed the complaint, saying the viewer’s experiences was an exception, and that Amazon had done its best to ensure ads would not cause Echo devices to accidentally buy cans of Purina cat food, or other items.
With that in mind, it is worth getting up to speed on how voice shopping works with Alexa and Google Assistant, how to get the most out of it — and, crucially, how to prevent accidental or malicious purchases, cat food or otherwise.
Voice shopping with Alexa on the Amazon Echo
All Amazon Echo devices are capable of making purchases with Alexa. Most goods available through Amazon Prime and sold by Amazon directly are up for grabs, but goods from third-party sellers are not available through Alexa voice shopping at this time.
To buy items from Amazon by speaking to Alexa, simply say: “Alexa, order [product]”. She will then check your buying history and make suggestions based on previous orders. Alternatively, if you asked about a product which you have not ordered before, Alexa will read out the name of an ‘Amazon Choice’ product which matches your request.
If you decline to buy it, Alexa will offer alternatives until you tell her to stop. Each product she suggests appears in the Alexa app with an image, the price and a link to view it on Amazon.
After naming the product, Alexa will state the total price (including tax) and ask if you would like to buy it. Say yes and the order will be placed.
Naturally, this leaves voice shopping wide open to accidents or pranking, so to prevent orders being made without your permission — or placed by a TV ad — we recommend you create a voice purchasing PIN.
How to create a PIN to prevent accidental Alexa voice shopping orders
- Open the Alex smartphone app or visit alexa.amazon.com
- Tap on the menu icon in the top-left corner
- Tap on Settings
- Scroll down and tap on Voice Purchasing
Here you can switch on purchasing by voice if you haven’t already, and create the all-important four-digit PIN. Once you have done that, tap on the ‘Save Changes’ button.
Now, when Alexa asks if you would like to buy something and you say yes, she will ask for your PIN to be spoken aloud. Children or housemates might still hear you — and the PIN appears in plaintext in the Alexa app’s interaction history. So it isn’t quite a foolproof system. But this goes some way to preventing accidental purchases.
For us, we get the most use from voice purchases when reordering household supplies. Buying toilet roll and kitchen towels takes just a few seconds and requires no laptop or smartphone to complete the order. Think of it this way — the kind of goods Amazon provides Dash Buttons for, are perfect for ordering with Alexa.