Amazon's Echo connected speaker is an unusual product for the online retail giant, if only because it hasn't included a way to buy stuff.
That's changing with the latest update for Echo, which lets users bark out orders to restock anything they've previously bought through Amazon Prime. All that's required is the device's wake-up word ("Alexa" by default) followed by "re-order [item name]." Echo then finds the item and asks for confirmation to buy it, either with a "yes" or a voice code.
Shopping isn't strictly restricted to past purchases. If Echo doesn't find the item in the user's order history, but can recommend something similar, it'll tell users the name and price before giving them the option to buy it. If it doesn't find anything, it'll add the item name to the user's shopping list. (You can also say "Alexa, cancel order" if you've bought something by accident.)
When Echo arrived as an invite-only product in November, it couldn't do much more than play streaming music, set reminders, and answer some Internet queries. But Amazon has been steadily expanding Echo's capabilities over the last several months. The speaker gained more music playback controls in January, followed by smart home controls for Philips Hue light bulbs and Belkin switches in August. IFTTT compatibility came shortly after, and a software development kit is in the works for even more product tie-ins.
Echo is still only available by invitation only, at $149 for Prime members and $199 for non-Prime members.
Why this matters: Amazon hasn't said when it will make Echo widely available, but we've got to be getting close now that you can buy products directly through it. Even if Echo was useful before, the shopping tie-in brings it much more in line with Amazon's business of breezy online shopping.