I recently shared my thoughts about Amazon’s portfolio expansions into everything from real estate to food to messaging apps, and that got me thinking about Alexa, Amazon’s home assistant embodied by its line of Echo products.

The idea of a digital, personal shopping assistant is an intriguing addition to the recent industry trends embracing artificial intelligence (AI) at every step of the retail process. And it certainly satisfies the holy grail for most retailers: gaining 24-hour access to their consumer bases.

But what does that mean, exactly? Well, the premise of AI is to code programs that assist, and in some cases replace, human decision-making. The most familiar example is the use of live chat, an AI program that learns the behavioral patterns of a retailer’s customer base to troubleshoot the most common customer service inquiries. These programs complement existing customer service channels, allowing for open and fluid communication between brands, retailers and their consumers. The most widely known version of live chat is an enterprise service offering from Facebook Messenger enabling brands to connect with consumers regarding their online and mobile purchases.

Live chat is just one part of the equation because, let’s be honest, today’s multitasking consumers do not want to stop what they’re doing to type questions on a keyboard. And that’s where the next phase of AI and the rise of virtual assistance devices and voice optimization search comes in.

The use of these technologies has become hugely popular among Americans. In eMarketer’s first forecast on users of digital assistants, an estimated 35.6 million Americans will use a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month in 2017 for everything from ordering pizza to buying a new car.

Which brings me back to Alexa and the Echo, the always-on listening speaker and voice gateway to the products listed on Amazon. With half a billion products at your disposal and a temperamental assistant listening into conversations nearby, you may find yourself with a plethora of boxes arriving at your doorstep. And as we’ve seen in some recent news, some of those boxes might be unexpected!

Echo is not the only service promoting itself as a smart home hub: Google Home, Apple Homepod and a variety of crowdsourced apps are all joining the race to simplify shopping for consumers. And it’s getting competitive. In May 2017, Google Home announced a partnership to integrate Google Assistant-powered Home into GE appliances.

AI and its inspired platforms have become yet another example of cutting-edge technology that retailers and brands can add to the panoply of tools they’re using to enhance the shopping experience, broaden their omnichannel marketing strategies and drive revenue. Let’s hope that one day those tools don’t revert to their “own” language!

Anjee continues to be an insatiable enthusiast of all things retail. She’s a student of culture with a pulse on future shoppers and the fleeting trends constantly changing the retail landscape … driving retailers, landlords and developers crazy!