Amazon.com Inc. has added its voice-search software Alexa to its iOS Amazon shopping app.
Alexa is the virtual assistant software that powers the voice-activated Amazon Echo device. Alexa has more than 5,000 “skills” or tasks she can perform, ranging from telling jokes, ordering a pizza from Domino’s or hailing a ride from Uber. Any developer can create a skill for Alexa and submit it to Amazon for approval, much like submitting an iOS app to Apple Inc. to publish in the App Store. Any skills Alexa has on the Echo will now work within the Amazon shopping app on iOS, Amazon announced Thursday.
The move is part of the “arms race” to own consumers’ time, says Julie Ask, vice president and principal analyst at research firm Forrester Research Inc. And dominating the mobile operating system is key, she says. Apple has voice assistant Siri for its iPhone users. Google has the Google Assistant for Android users on smartphones and for its smart home device Google Home, which is similar to Amazon’s Echo.
“Virtual assistants will be a key to future engagement with consumers,” Ask says.
Consumer adoption is also essential to the virtual assistant, as the software needs data and repeated use to produce high-quality results and get an understanding of how consumers speak and make requests, Ask says. Plus, developers won’t build skills to integrate with a software that consumers don’t use.
Alexander Meissner, chief technology officer at voice technology developing firm VUI Agency, agrees with Ask and says Amazon’s move to add Alexa to its app is about gaining market share with voice search.
“We see it as proof that Amazon is trying as hard as it can to get Alexa wherever it can because it needs to broaden its market,” Meissner says.
And its shopping app is the perfect place. 57% of online shoppers have the Amazon shopping app installed on their mobile device, according to an exclusive Internet Retailer survey of 2,815 U.S. consumers conducted in March by Bizrate Insights.
Plus, Amazon is the No. 1 starting point where consumers go to shop, as 52.4% of consumers say they go to the web-only giant first when shopping online, according to an online Internet Retailer survey of 515 U.S. adult online shoppers in December. Google was the second-most popular choice at 38.8%.
Adding Alexa to the shopping app will familiarize consumers who don’t have an Echo with voice assistant Alexa, even if those consumers don’t use Alexa for shopping, Meissner says. In fact, Alexa is more convenient for such tasks as turning on music or controlling the lights rather than for shopping, he says.
Only 1% of consumers say they use Alexa or Amazon Dash buttons to shop, according to a recent survey of 1,000 Amazon shoppers. E-commerce technology provider Branding Brand conducted the survey, which polled consumers who make the majority of purchases for their households.
Consumers must open the Amazon app to ask Alexa a question, and those extra taps to access the service could hurt adoption in the short term, says Brian Klais, founder and president of Pure Oxygen Labs, a mobile marketing and mobile search engine optimization firm. In theory, consumers could verbally ask Siri to open the Amazon app and then use Alexa for more requests.
“iOS consumers will be very open to trying [Alexa in the Amazon app] because Siri’s search-result quality is so disappointing,” Klais says. “Not enough iOS developers optimize their app content for Siri to be able to access easily, making Siri basically blind to what’s actually on your device,” he says. In contrast, Alexa’s number of skills makes her highly functional, he says.