The competition among so called smart speakers is heating up. This is no doubt fueled by Google and other players looking into entering this game; The natural interaction it could provide would result in a huge technological shift across our societies again. Later, its maturity could even embrace a screen-driven design, where you can still use voice but read your feedback visually, for those who are hard of hearing or deaf. I would suspect that others with various disabilities impacting speech could still use a speech-to-text tool and communicate with such devices, though at that point the timeliness of return diminishes a little – couldn’t they just type these same responses directly to the AI?
We’re getting a little carried into the future though, so let’s take a step back. Amazon announced a new Alexa feature: deals. ( They also gave details on product deals during the upcoming Thanksgiving festivities.) Essentially, every day, you can ask any Echo, whether it be yours or your friends, for a deal. This could be on tech items or common household necessities.
This is quite significant, if not entirely a new concept. Marketers have used their products before to provide deals to customers – the classic example of this is the newspaper, where we have had one form of another for distributing classifieds. The difference with the Alexa system is the ease at which you can now say yes to a deal: With only one word, you could get $9 off 40 laundry detergent pods and $3 off a giant pack of dryer sheets. How convenient. The echo will tell you the amount you’re saving on these deals, making them all the more tempting when the consumer “thinks in the moment” without knowing other price comparisons. This is not to say the deals are ever bad – but part of the buying experience has traditionally always relied on some time for choice, which is now being thrown out the window.
The strategy, of course, is genius. Amazon can now use its retail hold to provide an incentive for companies to even provide lower margins to begin with – the guarantee of outreaching millions is far too Lucrative and promising. For consumers, this integrates Amazon farther into their lives, a source of daily deals during at least this holiday season where they can save and look forward to more savings in the process. (whether this causes greater spending in the long run, we shall not comment on. That’s your call.)
Google does not have this same shopping presence or experience. While the giant knows a lot about search, user trends, perhaps consumer relationships in the wake of privacy revelations, their retail space is not large. One could even vehemently argue that the way they’re handling the pricing for their newer hardware products proves this. Since it is clear that smartphones are meant to become cheaper and gain longer retention rates, there’s no way an older model of selling could be as successful in this cycle of spending. Even if we factor out other divisions at the company setting their own rules and not influencing others, their retail experience is not as appealing.
Amazon has little work done in the search and AI space, which clearly shows with Alexa. The amount of times we ear “sorry, I can’t find an answer to the question I heard” is staggering. For general facts she is useful, but specifics Alexa does fail more at.
This is just a general snapshot of what is to come. The wars among tech companies to dominate the everyday consumer space are just beginning. Virtual and mixed reality is one aspect to this, along with the rise of products which can understand, process, and react to natural speech, while still providing personalized information and care. Humans like when they are recognized, when things don’t always feel shared – yet in shared, natural technology environments such as a home or public facility, providing personal touches to these products will also be crucial. Look for more push from both Amazon and Google in the future – as no doubt they both will appeal in different ways to target a wider audience for this vision. It will cause a greater integration of technology in our lives, hopefully in the most non-evasive ways possible for all. Oh, and we do not advise using your friend’s Echo to accept a deal on their behalf. Although, you definitely should educate them about setting a voice code to avoid this from happening in the first place – be a good friend.