Sainsbury's Alexa Skill

The challenge
To break into the voice-assistant market, to aid customers in amending their orders and checking details about their order before the date of delivery. And explore the potential of customers being able to complete their groceries orders entirely by voice.

Product feasibility
Venturing into the world of voice was the first of its kind for Sainsbury’s and therefore meant there was a lot questions and concerns from stakeholders. Therefore it was imperative that we investigated that there was a need for such a product and it would be welcomed by Sainsbury’s customers.

This was also very new territory for myself and so I spent a lot of time investigating how to design for voice, whilst incorporating my knowledge of how Sainsbury’s customers behaved both online and on the the groceries app.

I began by running competitor analysis of other Alexa Skills that were in the market, both groceries and shopping related and also of some that were complete unrelated. It was also useful to read the customer reviews of these Skills to understand what users frustrations and challenges with the skill were. This helped to start understanding opinions, needs and motivations of how people used skills and what they wanted them to do. 

Along with these insights, I put together artefacts such as experience maps to demonstrate where voice would fit in and contribute to the current groceries experience. All of this was presented to stakeholders to get the approval for us to continue exploration.

Sainsbury's Voice Experience Map
Sainsbury's Voice experience map


We then worked alongside a research agency, Sparkler, to conduct exploratory ethnographic research, where I visited people in their homes who had Amazon Alexa devices, to get a more accurate representation of how these skills are used in it’s real environment, and to learn how voice technology had become a part of their lives.

This was then followed up with the participants doing a diary study spanning over several weeks, where they were asked to use other Alexa Skills already on the market and review them. I was involved in monitoring the diary study throughout and worked alongside the agency to adapt the tasks as we went along. This was then wrapped up with a co-creation session where the participants shared stories of their experiences. We took this opportunity to also talk to the participants about what they would like from an Alexa Skill for their groceries.

Although Sainsbury’s had personae that are used across the business, these had not been developed in some time and had a lack of digital focus, and so particularly lacked any focus when designing for voice. So I took this opportunity, with my previous knowledge and data of groceries online and the research sessions we had run, to create three personae that could help us build a better product.


 flows and thinking about what the scripts would be for these journeys. We very quickly found that writing these out on paper was very tricky and talking through it was much easier.

Sainsbury's Alexa Persona
Sainsbury's Alexa Skill persona 'one-pagers'

The next stage was to decide on the journeys we were going to prioritise so I drew up flows of utterances and actions that would need to be taken. These were then used to demonstrate to the developer what we wanted to do and helped to tease out where we would hit any technical difficulties.

We also very quickly found that writing these out on paper was quite tricky, despite using utterances, we found physically talking through these between two people made it much easier to understand what the journeys would be.

Sainsbury's Alexa Skill flows
Sainsbury's Alexa Skill flows

Testing the concept
It was at this point that I wrote up scripts and created a number of recordings as a representation of what the skill would sound like. These were then manually played to participants, creating the illusion that they were communicating with a voice device.

Sainsbury's Alexa Skill protoype scripts

Due to the small size of the team on this project, I helped out just as much with the development as the research and design. Although I didn’t have the skills to help out with a lot of the back-end work, I did however manage to help out with building the web screens required for initial setup and login when first using the Amazon Skill, and also built the screens required for Amazon Alexa devices that have a screen. I also helped out with smaller tasks in the Alexa Development Console like reviewing and amending the product catalogue to ensure it was then able to be read correctly by Alexa.

With this being one of the first UK groceries Alexa Skills on the market, throughout development, we worked very closely with Alexa consultants from Amazon, with them not only giving us advice and making us aware of new features being released on the Alexa devices, but they were also keen to learn from us as it was new territory for them too.

Sainsbury's Alexa Skill

Product launch

Initially we launched a Beta internally to Sainsbury’s colleagues to use and test the product in their homes. We set up an inbox, which I monitored, to keep track of the feedback we received. These comments were then worked into stories and added to the backlog.

The Sainsbury’s Alexa Skill was released live on the Amazon website in December 2018, and since has had a consistent rating of 4 out of 5 by users.

Sainsbury's Alexa Skill banner


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Voice assistant

Designed & built by me