April 7, 2014, 11:43 AM

Amazon really wants to hear consumers’ voices

The e-retailer releases its Amazon Dash device for voice and bar code shopping. The move follows last week’s release of a voice-activated set-top device for TVs.

Lead Photo

A shopper can use Amazon's Dash device to scan bar codes of products she needs to replenish or press the voice button and speak items into the device’s microphone.

Amazon.com Inc.’s hardware kick continues. The top e-retailer in North America and Europe has come out with a device that enables consumers to add items to their online shopping lists via voice commands or bar code scans.

The handheld Amazon Dash follows on the heels of last week’s release of the web-only merchant’s $99 Fire TV set-top box that enables users to watch streamed content through their high-definition television sets. Fire TV users can press a button on the device’s remote and speak into a microphone to search for content.

Unlike Fire TV, Amazon Dash is not yet available to the general public; consumers must apply online to receive one.

Amazon says consumers it selects can use Dash to order items via its next-day AmazonFresh grocery-delivery service, which operates in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles; an Amazon spokeswoman says the e-retailer is testing "Dash with a select number of customers in Los Angeles and San Francisco."

Consumers connect Dash to their home Wi-Fi networks and to their AmazonFresh accounts. They then can press the voice button and speak items into the device’s microphone—an Amazon video shows shoppers speaking “strawberry yogurt” and “chocolate chips” into the device. A consumer can then go to her AmazonFresh account online to complete the order. The shopper also can use the Dash devices to scan bar codes of products she needs to replenish—for instance, an empty gallon of milk. Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for more information.

Dash is 6.375 inches long and 1.125 inches wide, according to the device’s online information page. “Dash is made to withstand busy households, so go ahead and grab it with flour on your hands to order more supplies,” Amazon says.

With the Dash and Fire devices, Amazon is making effective use of voice-recognition technology, says Forrester Research Inc. analyst James McQuivey.

“Putting microphones next to your TV and next to your fridge are two important points of purchase that Amazon can dominate, making voice more powerful for it than it will ever be for Google, Apple and Microsoft, who, so far, only see voice as an easier way to navigate your mobile devices,” McQuivey says.“Imagine that Amazon removes the bar code scanner from the Dash and it suddenly has a standalone microphone. Tack it to your kitchen cupboard, your bathroom mirror, or in your closet and you have a ubiquitous purchase platform. That's a clear device opportunity for Amazon, one that will actually make other Amazon devices more valuable in the long run.”

Amazon holds the top spots in the Internet Retailer 2013 Top 500 Guide and the 2013 Europe 500, both of which rank online retailers by annual revenue.

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