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When AI is easy, it works wonders.

That’s the concept behind Amazon’s dominance in the home and just about everywhere else. We like things to “just work” and not cause a lot of problems.

The Amazon Wand, introduced this week and available for $20 (and with a $20 credit for purchases, so it’s basically free), lets you scan a barcode for any product or press a button and talk to the Alexa bot to order that product by voice.

If you’re in the kitchen, you could say “order paper towels” or scan a barcode on that product and then it will ship, usually in two days using Amazon Prime. I’ve ordered the Wand and will report on my findings, but there’s a reason why this dual-purpose Wand exists.


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For most routine purchases, there are two possibilities. One is something we already have that we like and want again; the other is something we want but don’t already own and don’t know yet if we like it. Paper towels, bananas, soap — we purchase these items once or twice a month. We also tend to repurchase the same products once we know we like them. For new items, we usually like to try something new that comes recommended or seems a good possibility. Then, once we’re sold on it, we will probably want to buy it again. It becomes a favorite. It’s why people tend to get the same type of pizza or always purchase their light bulbs at Walmart.

Amazon knows this. An AI is parsing what you say to understand what you mean and make the process smooth when you ask for something by voice. If the AI is not the best option — say, you already know what you want — then a scan is better.

There’s a lesson here for all AI developers.

Think of a self-driving car. Is full automation of every feature the goal? Do we want to be drinking coffee at all times as the car drives us to work? You might say it depends on the coffee. In truth, full automation of everything is not the goal. I like how Wand does a blend, although I also see how the device is really a tool to increase Amazon sales.

With a chatbot, I’ve always liked how Mezi strikes a balance. There is a lot of AI involved, but humans are also powering the shopping service. Someday, the Wand might take all orders by voice, but the barcode feature is a good compromise. It’s “AI plus” for now.

The benefits to the consumer are real, and the AI actually works. The question in the end is whether an AI-powered device like this will make a dramatic impact on Amazon sales.

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