In short: Amazon Alexa Skills in the US can now be ‘enriched’ with in-skill purchases called “consumables,” according to a recent announcement from the company. The new developer tools build on the same tools used to include and instantiate one-time purchase and subscription management tools found in the Alexa Skills Kit Command-Line Interface. The primary difference between those prior options and the new in-skill purchases is that the consumables will need to be managed via an inventory function to track them as they are purchased and used by end users. That will need to be built around a database and ‘inventory intent.’
Background: These types of purchases aren’t necessarily uncommon for users of most forms of modern technology. They appear almost to mirror the purpose and functionality of in-app purchases (IAP) for mobile apps and games or downloadable content (DLC). In fact, Amazon goes so far as to note in its announcement that the new consumables are centered around concepts typically found in games or trivia. In general, the idea is to offer a title, application, or in this case a voice function that users can access for free in a limited capacity or for a lower cost than is usual. They can then purchase various items for use in the experience with real money. For example, a user might spend real money to unlock additional modes for a game or to access a certain amount of in-game currency to buy helpful items in case they get stuck. In mobile apps, IAP is often used to unlock ‘premium’ features that aren’t available to ‘free’ users.
Amazon also provides some examples of its own from experiences that are already available or will be soon, having been built out during a private beta of the consumables feature. Those include three games and an Alexa Skill called Hypno Therapist developed by Innomore LLC. The latter of those uses consumables to offer bundles of hypnotherapy sessions from a catalog of over 70 in groups of 10 sessions. A developer might also offer app-like voice-interactive experiences for free and then additional content or access at a cost, similarly to how consumables work in the game examples Amazon provides. Those include Would You Rather for Family and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and utilize consumables to let users unlock additional trivia categories for a set period of time or to purchase lifelines when they become stuck.
Impact: While not uncommon on stores or in software associated with mobile, console, or similar platforms, IAP isn’t necessarily a popular way for developers to make money. The method can actually be quite controversial if not implemented in a way that end users see as fair or reasonable, with results among gamers varying between mild disdain and a title becoming abandoned. At the same time, they are also a good source of money for developers and allow the creation of more experiences at no cost to the average user when implemented appropriately. Summarily, the appearance of IAP in the form of consumables on a voice assistant platform may turn out to be very off-putting to some users. But this is something that will likely be embraced by developers and which will almost certainly spread to other platforms if it proves successful for Amazon and Alexa devs.