From fetching weather updates to solving math equations, there are few voice tasks that Alexa, e-commerce giant Amazon’s voice assistant, cannot do.

Now, Alexa wants to be on a community device at a railway station, allowing users to simply speak to it to book a ticket, making the payment experience touch-free in a post-Covid world. Or renew your Prime subscription by a simple voice command. Or help the elderly book and pay for a gas cylinder hands-free.

Amazon India has pumped millions of dollars into this project, with a view to creating an all-encompassing payment authentication system based on Alexa, The Ken has learnt. The feature, which will authenticate users by their voice and enable hands-free transactions entirely within the voice ecosystem, would be the first such globally. This would be a game-changer in terms of speeding up transactions, drastically cutting down the number of touches required to make a payment.

So far, the digital assistant’s focus was on being everywhere, becoming ubiquitous as it played you music, quoted Star Wars, and powered up your microwave. With its new payments use case, Alexa has now taken a concrete step towards monetisation.

By supporting everything from UPI UPI Unified Payments Interface (UPI) UPI is an instant real-time payment system that merges various banking services and features under one umbrella to credit cards, the upcoming payment feature will open up a direct monetisation channel for Alexa’s 100,000 India-based developers. This would allow them to charge users for their premium content housed within voice apps, or what Amazon terms as ‘Alexa skills’. 

“It will be a game changer [for in-skill purchasing] whenever that happens,” says a source with direct knowledge of the matter. While one can find parallels between this project and the existing payments systems within the app ecosystems of Android and iOS, the former, an intelligent personal assistant, can be much more than a mere authentication system for app-related purchases. It can simplify daily use cases, such as reminding you about a bill payment and making payments instantly via a UPI ID. Additionally, it could enable vernacular users to purchase things on Amazon simply by speaking to an Amazon Echo smart speaker, where most of the Alexa action still takes place.  

And like the app economy that boomed out of smartphones, this could provide a medium for developers to implement multiple solutions on top of it. “Just like Uber exists because of Android, there could be some billion dollar startups that could be coming out of voice-based systems,” the source explained. 

Alexa already supports hands-free payments in India if a user has added enough balance in their Amazon Pay wallet.


Munsif Vengattil

Munsif keeps a tab on what Big Tech has been up to in India and all things OTT. He was with Reuters previously, where he wrote investigative pieces on Facebook’s content moderation operations and WhatsApp’s troubles in the run-up to India’s national elections. If you want to talk to Munsif about journalism, tech policy or his love for seekh kebabs, write to him at his first name

View Full Profile

Read this story. Subscribe Now

This story is available across both editions. Subscribe to the one that’s most relevant for you. Questions?

Pick an edition


Annual Subscription

12-month access to 200+ stories, archive of 800+ stories from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 2,750


Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 60+ new stories with 3-months worth of archives from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 1,750


Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

Rs. 500


Annual Subscription

12-month access to 150+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 120


Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 35+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 50


Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

$ 20



What is The Ken?

The Ken is a subscription-only business journalism website and app that provides coverage across two editions - India and Southeast Asia.

What kind of stories do you write?

We publish sharp, original and reported stories on technology, business and healthcare. Our stories are forward-looking, analytical and directional — supported by data, visualisations and infographics.

We use language and narrative that is accessible to even lay readers. And we optimise for quality over quantity, every single time.

What do I get if I subscribe?

For subscribers of the India edition, we publish a new story every weekday, a premium daily newsletter, Beyond The First Order and a weekly newsletter - The Nutgraf.

For subscribers of the Southeast Asia edition, we publish a new story three days a week and a weekly newsletter, Strait Up.

The annual subscription will get you complete, exclusive access to our archive of previously published stories for your edition, along with access to our subscriber-only mobile apps, our premium comment sections, our newsletter archives and several other gifts and benefits.

Do I need to pay separately for your premium newsletters?

Nope. Paid, premium subscribers of The Ken get our newsletters delivered for free.

Does a subscription to the India edition grant me access to Southeast Asia stories? Or vice-versa?

Afraid not. Each edition is separate with its own subscription plan. The India edition publishes stories focused on India. The Southeast Asia edition is focused on Southeast Asia. We may occasionally cross-publish stories from one edition to the other.

Do you offer an all-access joint subscription for both editions?

Not yet. If you’d like to access both editions, you’ll have to purchase two subscriptions separately - one for India and the other for Southeast Asia.

Do you offer any discounts?

No. We have a zero discounts policy.

Is there a free trial I can opt for?

We don’t offer any trials, but you can sign up for a free account which will give you access to the weekly free story, our archive of free stories and summaries of the paid stories. You can stay on the free account as long as you’d like.

Do you offer refunds?

We allow you to sample our journalism for free before signing up, and after you do, we stand by its quality. But we do not offer refunds.

I am facing some trouble purchasing a subscription. What can I do?

Please write to us at detailing the error or queries.