Gadgets

Amazon's Alexa virtual assistant can now order millions of items

The Echo smart speaker and Fire TV previously were only able to reorder items.

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Alexa's latest trick: ordering new products off Amazon.

The online retailer said Friday that Alexa, the digital voice assistant residing inside the company's Echo smart speaker and Fire TV, can now be used to order tens of millions of items -- from sunscreen to batteries to chocolate -- by simply asking.

Just tell your Echo: "Alexa, order Old Spice deodorant" or (hopefully not yelling across the house) "Alexa, order Charmin toilet paper."

Alexa previously was limited to reordering items someone had already purchased or recommending company-selected printers or laptops through a service called Amazon's Choice. All the items now available for purchase must be eligible for Prime, Amazon's membership service that includes unlimited two-day shipping. New items are being added daily to the list.

Items ineligible for purchase through Alexa include apparel, shoes, jewelry, watches, Amazon Fresh, Amazon Prime Pantry, Amazon Prime Now and add-on items.

Amazon has been working to add new features to Alexa at a regular clip, with the virtual assistant now able to order an Uber car, play NPR radio or report your bank balance. Being able to order items off Amazon seems to be one of the most obvious features for Alexa since Amazon is a retail website, but the company instead held off on this tool until the Echo was about a year and a half old.

"We launch things when they are ready," an Amazon spokeswoman said when asked about the timing. "Our speech science engineers have made something very complicated and difficult to do so exceedingly easy for customers."

While the Echo has turned into an unexpected hit for the connected home, Amazon will have to work harder to stay ahead of coming competition. Google plans to release its Google Home smart speaker later this year and Apple is rumored to be working on a competing device, too.

To order through Alexa, ask the virtual assistant for a product and Alexa will suggest something that ships with Prime and then spits out the order total. Simply say "yes" to buy it. Products purchased using Alexa qualify for free returns.