Cat de Merode, vice president of product for Peapod – an online grocery delivery service – paints a picture.
You’re cooking dinner and you realize you’re chopping your last clove of garlic. You’ll need to buy more.
You would add it your grocery list, but your hands are filthy.
But you know if you don’t do it now, you’ll forget. So you ask for a little help.
“Alexa. Ask Peapod to order more garlic,” you say out loud.
Alexa, the name given to Amazon’s voice-activated home assistant, Echo, is now connected to the Peapod by Giant service already used by many families in the Greater Lehigh Valley to order groceries and have them delivered to their home.
It allows users to order groceries not only without getting in the car, but without having to log online or to the Peapod app to manage your list.
de Merode said the company, which is based in Chicago, but partners with Giant Food Stores in Coopersburg, locally, wanted to show it’s on the leading edge of technology.
“Peapod has always been on the forefront of finding new solutions,” she said. “This is another proof point.”
But she also knows that the relatively new technology of voice-integrated systems can be as frustrating as it can be beneficial.
I have used Alexa to order from Pizza Hut a handful of times.
A couple of times it went well. After filling out an online profile, I was able to sit in my living room and say, “Alexa, order for me a large pepperoni pan pizza and a two-liter bottle of Pepsi.”
She asked some clarifying questions, placed the order and my pizza arrived about 45 minutes later, as expected.
The other couple of times it ended up in a shouting match with the little black cylinder, which kept alternately doubling and deleting my order.
I must say that I’m ashamed of some of the names I called her.
Having heard similar stories of voice-interface frustration, Peapod has intentionally kept simple its Alexa app. It adds to the already existing web and mobile ordering options without replacing them.
Here’s what it can and can’t do.
You can’t just go home and say “Alexa. Order me …” and then start spouting off your grocery list.
First, you must have an Amazon Echo. It has to be linked to the Peapod app and you must have an online account with Peapod for Giant before you can begin.
Technically, you can add totally new products that you haven’t listed on the website, but de Merode said the system isn’t really set up for that and she doesn’t recommend it.
“If you say ‘Alexa. Ask Peapod to order cheese,’ and you’ve never ordered cheese before, you might have trouble finding the cheese you want because we have hundreds of types of cheese,” she said.
But, for example, if you’ve ordered oranges from the website before, the app will know your preferences.
“If you say, “Alexa. Ask Peapod to order oranges,” and you’ve ordered blood oranges in the past, it will ask you if you want to order blood oranges,” she explained.
However, if you want clementines, you simply have to say, “no, order clementines” – and the app instead will order those.
She said the app is especially useful for people who often order the same or similar grocery lists. A simple command to reorder from an existing list can get the ball rolling, and a customer can check delivery times using the app.
Still, de Merode cautions that voice integrated technology is very new, so the app is intended as a complement and not a replacement for other ordering platforms.
“We may achieve those solutions in the future. That’s always on the table,” de Merode said.
But for now, Peapod’s Alexa app is simply a way to make meal planning and shopping just a little more simple and perhaps more fun.