How Amazon entered my home: A month living with Alexa

Alvaro Morilla, associate analyst eCommerce/digital at Kantar Retail, shares his experience of living with Amazon’s voice-activated personal assistant, Alexa.

From time to time, a new product appears and redefines what we think is possible regarding digital experiences.

Last year, Amazon launched Amazon Echo in the UK and Germany. As I love all the new gadgets, especially those that can make my life easier (which is the first premise of Amazon Echo), I thought, why not try it?

Let’s see what I learned from my experience living with Alexa this last month.

How it Works

Amazon Echo has seven built-in microphones using ‘Far Field Voice Recognition’ technology that sends our message directly to the cloud, where the brain of Alexa lies. The device gets activated just by saying ‘Alexa’, and can understand your voice, even through background noise.

The most fascinating thing for me it’s that the device really recognizes what I say, something not as easy, considering I am not a native English speaker. When Alexa does not recognise it, she just politely replies “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand.” Obviously we had our little disagreements, just like every couple does. She receives updates through the cloud automatically and is constantly learning. The more you use Echo, the more Alexa adapts to your speech patterns, vocabulary and personal preferences.

Currently, my main interaction with the device has been setting timers, and it has now become my official alarm. I wake up every day yelling “Alexa stop!”; the next steps are asking for the weather, reading the news, and playing some music to start the day off.

Nothing particularly relevant, right? But here lies the secret. The key to the device’s success is that Amazon has created an integrated assistant who we feel connected to. The personification of the device makes it not just an item in the house, but more like our companion, even referring to Alexa as “she” rather than “it”. This creates a link, with the device becoming an integral part of the house, ingrained in our daily lives and routines. This integration is a daily reminder of our relationship with the retailer, and how we are now opening up our homes to Amazon. With the Echo’s success, Amazon is in a prime position to become the first touch point on our shopping journey, with the long term aim of being the only one.

The experience is not perfect, and the types of interactions you need to have to activate Alexa’s skills sometimes are not intuitive or don’t feel human. However, the first-mover advantage will help Amazon learn, and as Alexa gets smarter and Amazon discovers new ways of bundling the voice assistant in its devices, the experience will only improve.

Will I keep Using Alexa/Echo in the Future? 

The pace of change in the last few years has accelerated in a tremendous way. This entire speak-to-order paradigm sounded like a sci-fi movie just five years ago. Not long before that, shopping with a mobile phone and getting items shipped to your door the next day was inconceivable.

I am always thrilled with new devices and technologies, and as an early adopter, I have fallen victim to trends as often as I have ridden the successful tech waves. From these experiences, I feel sure that this time around, it is no fad. We are not talking about a life changing device or the HAL 9000 created to control our homes, but I enjoyed using the Echo, and I can assure you I will keep interacting with Alexa on a daily basis. Amazon continues adding new improvements to the device, as the recent integration of voice shopping into its Echo devices in the UK.

As Amazon invents new forms of shopping, it will keep promoting the trial and adoption of its devices by offering exclusive promotions and discounts, and Alexa exclusive deals as we’ve seen during Prime Day in the US. Amazon is going to take advantage of the holiday season to do the same, and we expect the Echo and Dot themselves to be Christmas bestsellers on Amazon UK. This is not the final weapon that’s going to dictate how we shop in the future, or solve all of our problems, but is going to have an impact in the medium term and help Amazon reach more and more households. We had better get used to Alexa, because she is here to stay.

This was first published on Kantar Retail IQ. To read the post, click here.

This topic in discussion at the ‘Retail Now & Next: 2017+’, Insights Forum on 30th March

Read Kantar Retail’s latest predictions for 2023

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