( Photo by The Packer staff )

Most of my friends are skeptical of digital assistants, marketed primarily now as Google Home Assistant and Amazon Echo (Alexa).

“You know they eavesdrop on you, don’t you?” one said.

“Really?” I responded, feigning indifference. 

“Of course they are listening all the time — how else would they respond when you say “Alexa ... ” another friend chided.

Their concerns are not unfounded, I suppose. Big Brother is listening, at least for the “wake” word — and possibly more. 

For Christmas, we received an Amazon Echo Dot. So far, I’m mostly enthralled with it. 

“Alexa, what is the weather?” “Alexa, give me a flash news briefing.” “Alexa, play classical piano music.” And so on.

Alexa complies promptly to most commands, though sometimes she annoyingly misses my meaning. “I’m not sure what you said.” That again, Alexa?

We have had the Echo Dot for mere days, but I have struck a deal with Alexa. I won’t ask if she is eavesdropping on our household as long as she makes our life so darn easy.

Our daughter and her husband have a Google Home Assistant and the joke is that their 10-month old son’s (our second grandson) first words will be “Hey Google.” 

The number of these “smart” speakers is already daunting. NPR reported this year that about 40 million Americans own one. In a few years, there could be as many “digital assistants” as there are people in the world — 7.5 billion or so.

How will these devices change the way we live, the way we shop, the way we connect with each other?

For Amazon, the Echo Dot may indeed give the online retailer the ultimate Trojan horse that will allow it to be the easy button for ordering groceries, buying household goods, listening to books/music, consuming news, living life.The more versatile that the digital assistant becomes, the greater disruptive force it will be.

In a story headlined, “What Is Alexa Voice Shopping, and How Do You Use It?” on Tomsguide.com, the author states a recent survey reveals that voice shopping on smart devices like the Echo Dot will jump from $2 billion now to $40 billion by 2022. Amazon will dominate the “voice shopping” channel with its bigger market share, now more than twice of its competition.

According to the story, “all you have to do” is tell Alexa what you want to buy. Alexa then searches Amazon to find the product and confirms it has picked the item you want. If you respond with a “yes,” the order is placed.

I haven’t tried voice shopping, but it sounds doable.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Amazon is planning to build and expand Whole Foods stores across the U.S. to put more customers within range of the e-commerce giant’s two-hour delivery service.

Amazon is surely counting on voice shopping as a component of its future growth, and produce marketers should begin to think about how they can become a part of this new frontier.

Of course, the skeptics may have the last laugh. Will distrust of the technology ultimately doom its utility?

The digital home assistant is a shiny new object for consumers, a source of fascination and enjoyment. But will the silky tones of Alexa have the staying power to change the way we shop? A few days in with the Echo Dot, I wouldn’t bet against her.

Tom Karst is The Packer’s editor. E-mail him at tkarst@farmjournal.com.

 
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