Is Amazon’s Alexa a threat to rival retailers?
Through a special arrangement, what follows is a summary of an article from Retail Paradox, RSR Research’s weekly analysis on emerging issues facing retailers, presented here for discussion.
About a month ago, a six-year old managed to order a dollhouse and six pounds of cookies by interacting with Alexa. The kids were playing with Alexa by asking and telling knock-knock jokes, and the mother soon saw an e-mail order confirmation for a $170 order. A lesson on setting Alexa’s PIN to prevent unwanted purchases was learned.
But what fascinates me the most about Amazon’s voice ordering system is how my own kids have taken to it. After asking if Alexa would play dollhouse with her and hearing her order confirmed, the girl told Alexa “I love you!” While much older, my children (ages 12 and 15) likewise seem to have a certain amount of affection for “her” — and they call it “her” — already.
According to them, we don’t own an Echo, we own an Alexa. And they constantly ask her to tell them the weather or a joke or to play a song.
I don’t think I realized how much this AI tool has wormed its way into our life until I caught an episode of Star Trek: Voyager. One of the main characters is an AI – a holographic doctor. A new assistant was appalled at how the crew treat the doctor, “like he’s a piece of furniture or something.” The writers assumed that even though someone may look, sound and feel real to the touch, people would still know deep down it’s not a real person. And thus treat it more like a piece of furniture.
After hearing about the girl who loves Alexa and watching my own kids, I have a feeling the human tendency is going to be to relate to anything that is moderately human as human — even when they know it’s not. I’m also certain that retailers struggling to compete against Amazon need to think a lot more about what kind of personality and trust people are projecting on to services like Alexa. Increasingly, they may find they are not competing against some wacky bald guy and an internet behemoth. They are competing against Alexa, my kids’ favorite disembodied voice.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: In what ways are voice assistants a threat to retailers? Should retailers be looking to partner early on with Echo or one of its rivals (Google, Microsoft, Apple, etc.)? How else can they respond?