Comment Black Friday is fast approaching, but the annual online price-cutting frenzy seems to be losing its luster. Many reports point out that the discounts may not be all they seem, and shoppers better shop around.
But behind the scenes, the industry is also witnessing the demise of another popular fad that Amazon was trying so hard to create. With its voice interface device, Alexa, the global e-commerce and technology giant, launched a fad for home voice interfaces in 2014, which had enthusiastic households around the world demanding that their house guests AI tell them jokes and answer trivial questions.
But why? This is exactly what Amazon may be wondering. According to reports, its Worldwide Digital unit, which includes Echo smart speakers and Alexa voice technology, reported an operating loss of more than $3 billion. Business Insider also claimed that the vast majority of losses were related to Amazon’s Alexa and other devices.
Asked by The register, Amazon did not respond to this. Instead, in a statement, Amazon’s senior vice president for devices and services, David Limp, said: “We are more committed than ever to Echo and Alexa, and we will continue to invest heavily in them. .”
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Eight years later its launch that’s not how it was supposed to be. Alexa, along with its voice-interfaced cousins Google Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortanawere to usher in a new era of home interaction with information services and retail.
According to some estimates, the so-called “conversational commerce” market is worth $35 billion by 2020.
The argument went something like this. Offering a combination of information and shopping, voice assistants could give advice and guidance to households – weather, travel, recipes, etc. – while in the background, Amazon or third-party retailers use smart analytics to serve up the most likely purchases in a given time period.
In this slightly chilling take on surveillance capitalism, we imagine what someone driving 20 miles to work on a rainy Wednesday might want to cook for their school-aged children – one of whom is lactose intolerant – when ‘they’re going home. Sheer convenience and utility were meant to make services extremely sticky. Since Amazon also provides video streaming services, this was part of a so-called “digital entanglement” designed to ensure customer loyalty.
What went wrong? Although the technology companies behind these services have signed a number of partnerships with retailers, and offer access to their platforms via “skills” to allow retailers to take orders by voice, customers do not seem so enthusiastic.
As of 2018, there has been a gust of stories suggesting that voice shopping wasn’t all it was made out to be and consumers were just as happy to sit back and click until they got the basket they wanted.
While timers, music, and weather forecasts may be good for users, they don’t pay much for platform providers. Meanwhile, the front page of Amazon’s “skill” downloads includes four apps for making fart noises.
This may be an idea whose time has not yet come. But for now, the dream of a voice-assisted cross-platform future for digital commerce and services seems to be crumbling. ®