Amazon customers purchased one billion items from small businesses this holiday season, according to a new report by Amazon released today. It was also the best-selling season for Alexa-enabled devices, amassing tens of millions of items sold. The company is on a roll, but the question you might be asking, especially if you know there are many competitors and options available, is what accounts for all of the success?
For starters, you should know that I'm a big fan of the Alexa bot because, to be honest, it just works. Other bots, and this includes the Assistant bot on the Google Home speaker and on many smartphones, does work fine for most queries, but it's still playing catch-up with Alexa, which now supports tens of thousands of "skills" (extension to the device such as trivia games and the ability to read a kid's book) and smart home products. I use Alexa to control my garage doors, lights, and thermostat in my home.
Another big selling point is that Alexa tends to understand what I'm asking. On the new Echo speaker, the one that is a bit more plump and sounds better than the original Echo, you can talk from across the room and ask about musical artists, the weather, or even ask weird questions and you'll probably get a pretty good answer. It works better than most speakers at hearing when there is background noise.
Over the holiday, a house-full of people at various parties and family events were taken by the bot, even though it actually came out in the summer of 2018. My son even figured out that you can make Alexa howl like a wolf.
Alexa quickly becomes a member of the household. The Google Assistant bot and Microsoft Cortana don't seem to have as much personality. (It's easy to forget the bots are just algorithms that process voice-activated requests.) Siri just doesn't provide as much functionality. And, there's no speaker that can sit on a kitchen counter. Everyone in my house keeps saying Alexa even though there's a Google Home speaker in the same room.
Amazon also has a one-two punch. I use the bot to order products as well, and it's easy to ask about USB cables, camera cards, and printer paper. Sometimes, the bot just offers to reorder a previous item, which is just brilliant because it's so easy and smooth. I can order paper for a printer in about ten seconds, On my phone or a laptop, it takes much longer. Of course, this is not lost on Amazon, which wants you to use Alexa for just about anything and everything under the sun, including all of your household and work purchases.
Add to this the small business angle and you have a trifecta or ingenuity.
I recently purchased a few textbooks, and the provider was a small company that specializes in a certain category of books for my daughter needs next semester. What an amazing opportunity for that reseller, since they offered the best price on the books and were so easy to find using the Alexa bot. I know there are hundreds and hundreds of other sites, but what Amazon is doing is streamlining the entire shopping experience. You order by voice using a credit card on file. The bot knows your address and you know it will arrive in two days without any headaches. I've only had one Amazon order not arrive on time in the last few years and that was due to a major snowstorm.
What are the lessons here? Ironically, they are the same as always. Make things as easy as possible for customers. Make sure the product works, even if it is from across the room. Keep improving your products and services. Add some ingenuity and some fun. That recipe is working for Amazon and countless small companies who sell products on Amazon.
A good question to ask as we roll into 2018: Are you doing all of those things?