As you’re reading this story, the first Amazon Echo smart speakers have started shipping to Amazon Prime users in India, each of who managed to snag the device using an invite-only offer.
According to industry estimates, there are over 7 million Amazon Prime users in the country, each of whom pay an introductory annual fee of Rs 499 (set to go up to Rs 999) to access free and fast shipping, access to video content (and soon to be launched Prime Music) and exclusive offers, among other services.
These 7 million users are arguably one of the most sought-after customer bases in the Indian e-commerce market, together representing the top of the consumption pyramid.
Think of each Echo device as Amazon’s equivalent of a Trojan Horse sent to gradually win over each household.
“Alexa, can you reorder eggs?”
“Alexa, can you book me a cab for 9.30 a.m?”
“Alexa, can you recommend a gift for Arun’s birthday?”
“Alexa, can you order a pepperoni pizza from Domino’s?”
“Alexa, can you play the soundtrack from Guardians of The Galaxy 2?”
“Alexa, can you remind me when those Nike shoes I saved are on sale?”
If focusing on low-value items like digestive candies (for which arch-rival Flipkart made fun of it) and groceries was the first step in Amazon’s plan to become a part of your myriad daily activities, Echo is the next.
The primary focus of Echo devices in India is to gather data on the highest spending consumers, estimated to be close to 60 million by 2020, according to a report by Google and AT Kearney.
Even though Alexa’s primary use cases remain checking on weather, playing your favourite song and finding ways to engage kids, Amazon’s focus is shifting on driving retail. A report by Forrester Research confirms how it works. The interactions start out as general queries between the user and voice assistant; then these move to connect and control smart home features; and finally, order for services and transactions that come with maturity in adoption.
Echo, which currently recognises English in American, British and Indian accents, will help Amazon get insight into what the highest paying customers in the country want, their order patterns and how frequently they are willing to transact.
“To begin with, Alexa will be used by Indian consumers for information use cases such as asking about the weather, playing a song or entertainment for kids,” says Satish Meena, senior forecast analyst at Forrester Research. “It will slowly move towards ordering services such as booking a cab, ordering food, and finally, towards retail on the Amazon platform which is what the platform is driving towards.”
Voice as the new platform
The ingenious (and thus, disruptive) power of Alexa lies in the fact that Amazon has opened up its voice-recognition powers to brands and developers around the world.