- Think Tank - What Amazon’s Holiday Press Release Tells Us About Smart Speakers
- Something You Probably Don’t Know - Amazon is Pushing Voice Commerce into 10 Third-Party Skills Next Week
- More stuff - Stuff to listen to, events, people, etc.
- Voice Insiders of the Year - The Most Important and Commented on Voice Insider Articles of 2020
N.B. Happy New Year Voice Insiders. Thanks for your support in 2020. What a year! We covered some really interesting topics this year which we highlight below instead of our chart of the week. I hope you have an amazing start to 2021. From my recent conversations with industry leaders, there is a lot about to happen. We look forward to exploring the most important topics here in depth.
Think Tank – What Amazon’s Holiday Press Release Tells Us About Smart Speakers and the Company Priorities
Amazon publishes a press release each year shortly after Christmas with some details around the holiday shopping season. Some of you might enjoy the 2019 write-up where I broke down the language used in the announcements over a four-year period. However, here I am just going to cite the sub-headlines from the recent post-holiday releases.
- 2016 - “Echo Dot is the best-selling, most gifted item on Amazon.com.”
- 2017 - “Echo Dot was the #1 top-selling product across all categories on Amazon.”
- 2018 - “the best-selling Amazon Devices this holiday included all-new Echo Dot, Fire TV Stick 4K with all-new Alexa Voice Remote, and Echo.”
- 2019 - “Customers worldwide purchased tens of millions of Amazon Devices…millions more Amazon devices compared to last holiday.”
- 2020 - “Amazon’s record-breaking holiday season with our biggest ever customer savings, small business growth, and community giving helped make the holiday season a little bit brighter.”
- 2020 [a bit further down, actually towards the end of the announcement] - “Some of the best-selling items included ThinkFun Gravity Maze Marble Run Brain Game, Lite-Brite Ultimate Classic Retro Toy, Jenga Classic Game, Just Dance 2021 - Nintendo Switch Standard Edition, Sengled Smart LED Light Bulb, all-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote, Revlon One-Step Hair Dryer, and Neutrogena Cleansing Face Wipes.”
Wow. What a change. For three years Echo led the headlines and last year we saw the hard pivot to Alexa. This year the subheadline does not mention Alexa. In fact, there are 350 words in the announcement before Alexa is even mentioned. Echo is never mentioned; not even once.
What Amazon Wants to Communicate
So, what should we make of Amazon’s announcement and how it reveals company strategy? In the past, Amazon has highlighted items it wanted to steer attention to and Echo and Alexa were top of that list for four years. Today, it is not.
However, there are several reasons why this may be so. First, sales of smart speakers (despite the new spherical design) might not have been that robust this year. I suspect that is true, in part, given the lack of stock-outs. Yes, there were a few stock-outs such as with the Echo Studio, but most of the Amazon Alexa product portfolio has inventory today and there are even discount promotions this week in an effort to drive more sales. Smart speakers still may be big sellers but the market is more upsell to existing users than capturing new customers and other items are higher on the priority list for Amazon for 2020 and 2021.
Second, the story of 2020 was COVID. You can talk about holiday sales all you want, but all communications from companies exist in the COVID-reality-context. The release for Canada has this in the first section after the introduction, “Amazon helped support communities in dozens of countries across the globe this holiday season and throughout 2020—partnering with local organizations to provide meals to underserved families and vulnerable seniors, and providing disaster relief support, emergency aid items, and millions of dollars in product and monetary donations to schools and toy drives.” The U.S. version blog post also focused heavily on charitable giving and related programs. This is a good brand image story for Amazon and worth highlighting especially in relation to our next reason below.
Third, the press release in 2020, more than in previous years, looks like it was written primarily by the PR team. It lacks the flair and length of some earlier releases which seemed to have more telltale imprints from senior Amazon executives. And, past years highlighted first what was purchased. It was about Prime or Echo or other products that consumers loved. This year the focus was on what Amazon “delivered” instead of what it sold. It delivered critical shipments to consumers that helped cut down on trips to physical stores. It delivered savings to those customers. It delivered small business growth. Amazon even delivered community giving. This all sounds like Amazon as the good actor in society. The positioning is not unwise for a company potentially facing antitrust action.
From 2016 through 2019, Amazon was an ecommerce juggernaut according to its post-holiday press releases. In 2020, Amazon was helping customers, employees, and small business partners selling through its platform. This is the message that Amazon now wants to portray. Everyone already knows Amazon is a juggernaut. The company won ecommerce before 2020 but this year it won an increasing share of all commerce as more shopping shifted online for obvious reasons. Why beat a dead horse and tell people what they already know? Why fan the flames and give more ammunition to legislators that already dislike the company? Instead of the typical tech speak about growth and changing the world, talk about how you are helping the world right now.
What it Means
We already know that the investment focus around Alexa is shifting. We have discussed that in Voice Insider and on the podcast. This does not mean Alexa is no longer important to Amazon. It just means it is not as big of a focus as during the past few years. It is also a reflection of our times. Amazon’s core focus in 2020 by necessity was keeping its fulfillment centers operating as efficiently as possible. The core business is commerce. Alexa doesn’t help that mission much at the moment. But, maybe it will change given the note immediately below. Regardless, Alexa has had more than its share of focus by Amazon and that has helped the voice assistant become a cultural icon used by tens of millions of consumers every month. We have entered another era of the voice revolution. Long live the revolution.
SYPDK - Amazon Shopping Voice Commerce Integration Comes to Select Alexa Skills
Voicebot has learned that Amazon will start rolling out voice commerce integrations with third-party skills next week. Our understanding is that there are 10 partners in this beta program. There will be U.S.-based skill developers as you might expect given that all programs tend to begin in the states before introduction elsewhere. However, there will be at least some skills participating that are focused on markets outside the U.S.
The skills will be able to suggest items for purchase and if the user says yes, Alexa will take them through an Amazon shopping check-out process. During this process, the third-party skill sessions will remain active. When the purchase is complete, Alexa will return the user to the third-party skill where they started so they can pick up where they left off. Alexa will also pass data to the skill about the purchase which can then be used as context for the skill experience.
This type of user experience and skill publisher option is long overdue. There will certainly be a learning period associated with these new voice commerce features but it is critical that voice apps have these types of capabilities so they are on a more level playing field with mobile apps and present meaningful monetization opportunities for skill developers.
As you know, Alexa skills offer limited voice commerce features to skill publishers today. This program ties Amazon product fulfillment into the process for items that are not sold today by the skill publisher. Presumably the skill publisher that refers a sale will receive a commission or affiliate fee. It is important that Amazon will enable the skill session to remain open during the shopping experience, will bring the user back to the skill, and will pass data about the purchase transaction to the developer. This is the type of closed loop process that is most likely to deliver the best consumer experience and also provide the skill publisher with the data they need to optimize their promotion tactics.
Let me know if you have additional details about this program. I’d be interested to learn more. [email protected] or @bretkinsella on Twitter and Telegram. At Voicebot, we do not betray our sources and have withheld big stories that risked compromising sources.
Stuff That’s Happen/ed/ing
- Top Brand Leaders in Voice AI 2020: We just published our list of 25 brands that had interesting, impactful, and/or innovative use of voice interactive experiences in 2020. Check out the full list here.
- Top Leaders in Voice AI: In case you missed it, Voicebot recently named the 68 Top Leaders in Voice AI for 2020. Check out the list here.
- Upcoming Event: Bret will speak at Voice Talks Episode 8 on January 28th at 2pm. The theme will be the State of Voice 2021. You can register for free here. The event will be pre-recorded so Bret will be online during the presentation and answering questions about the content in real-time. How’s that for service?
- Upcoming Event: Bret will be the featured guest for an All About Voice Livestream on January 28th at 11 am EDT, 4pm CET. This will be live from Germany, but, of course, I will be in the States as no one is traveling right now. Register for free here. You can ask real-time questions and watch the discussion. Hope you can join us.
- To Listen to: The first of our Voice Year in Review 2020 panel discussions with Tobias Dengel of WillowTree, Brielle Nickolov of Botmock, and Sarah Andrew Wilson from Matchbox.io. Listen here.
- To Listen to: The second of our Voice Year in Review 2020 panel discussions focused on developers. Guests include Michael Myers of XAPPmedia, Carl Robinson of Rumble Studios and The VoiceTech Podcast, and Steve Tingiris of Dabble Lab. Listen here.
- To Listen to: The third of our Voice Year in Review 2020 panels is all about Europe. Niamh Bushnell from SoapBox Labs joins us from Dublin while Dominik Meissner from 169 Labs joins from Munich, and Alexis Hue of Voxalyze represents a voice industry perspective shaped in Berlin and Paris. Listen here.
- Get in touch: If you know about other upcoming announcements, events, or milestones drop me a note [email protected] or on Telegram or Twitter @bretkinsella. Thanks.
Highlight of the Week - Top Voice Insiders of 2020
In 2020, Voice Insider broke several stories that only later made it into the news. Some have yet to make it into the news. Some examples include the confirmation of a very large what3words funding round, the revelation that Apple had 1,000 people working on Siri, third-party voice app use doubled during quarantine, a new Amazon executive was shifting the focus of the Alexa team, VaynerSmart closed its doors in Q2, and today we revealed a new Alexa voice commerce program for third-party skills. Voice Insider also published a great deal of data in 2020 that is not available elsewhere. We hope these little known insights have proven valuable to you.
It is probably no surprise that some issues cause more conversation than others. When you are writing dozens of newsletters with multiple essays or data points, there are bound to be some that generate more of a stir than others. Here are 10 worth another look.
- GPT-3: Amazing Voice Tech or Parlor Trick - Issue #89
- Where’s the Money in Voice? - Issue #81
- Voice Ecosystems Look More Like Social Media Than Mobile - Issue #75
- Will Coronavirus Lead to Conversational Convergence? - Issue #77
- Do “No Code” Voice App Builders Have a Future? - Issue #94
- Custom Voice Assistants Break Out - Issue #84
- Will IVR Save the Voice Agency? - Issue #91
- Third Party Voice App Use Doubled During Quarantine - Issue #85
- Amazon is Handing Out Top Level Alexa Intents to Third-parties - Issue #103
- Hearables, Smart Speakers, and the Knock-on Effect - Issue #102