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Letting Alexa into our homes

With concerns about privacy abound, and even the former FBI director James Comey suggesting that covering your webcam is tantamount to locking your house or your door—how is it that we have allowed an always-on listening device into our kitchens, and even bedrooms?

Released just three years ago in November 2014, analysis by Kantar Worldpanel ComTech suggests Amazon’s Alexa has already made its way into six per cent of all UK households. Apple too, has just unveiled HomePod, its first smart speaker and Google said in January that it sold “more than one” Google Home device “every second” since its Home Mini started shipping in October 2017.

Although many people say they want to protect their personal information, privacy tends to take a backseat to convenience. Despite the ongoing data collection by GPRS and social media apps, and the countless examples of individuals who have seen wedding adverts minutes after proposing, or seeing adverts for cat food just after chatting about cats, we keep using them because they make our lives easier.

Consumers are using voice assistants to cue up music, set timers, get weather forecasts and even turn light switches on and off. But they're also starting to use them to shop. They are yet another technological vehicle - like Amazon Dash - that are reducing the steps consumers need to take before making a purchase online. These speech recognition tools are developing fast and – for the first time in retail history – have made online shopping digitally simpler, intuitive and frictionless.

Searching for the implications
Since the foundation of P&G’s brand management function in 1931, the basic principles of grocery marketing have remained largely unchanged. Low-involvement FMCG brands have invested in keeping their products at the top of our minds, putting them on offer in the aisles, making their USPs known.

The interaction with Alexa eliminates the need for packaging, design and end-caps, meaning that brands are going to have to learn to redefine them in a whole new dimension. The Alexa consumer is no longer in store searching for a brand to guide them. Shoppers are asking their Alexa for toilet roll, and Alexa is making the decision on what brand that is on their behalf. 

It’s not all doom and gloom though, some FMCG players are tapping into the opportunity that Amazon’s Alexa offers. Tide's app, Stain Remover, for example, doles out advice for more than 200 types of stains. Users just call out “Alexa, ask Tide how to clean a grass stain”, and it will provide step-by-step voice instructions on how to remove it.

Campbell's Kitchen helps consumers choose recipes, all of which feature Campbell’s products.  Saying “Alexa, ask Campbell’s Kitchen what’s for dinner” for example, will offer up options matched to personal taste and time preferences, and then helps guide the cooking process.

Nestlé’s "GoodNes" skill pairs voice cooking instructions with an online guide, so users can both hear and see recipe images and steps, and access details like nutritional information, ingredients and utensils that needed.

Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple are shifting our expectations of what’s possible, helping people find products at their moment of need. Brands still have a long way to go: while Alexa presents many challenges, it also offers opportunities—which brands like Campbell’s are making the most of. Unilever too has noted that Amazon’s Alexa platform will play a key role in its ongoing digital transformation.

We’re currently at the cusp of a revolution. Consumers are generally happy to compromise on privacy – even when Alexa is always listening. Although voice-led retail will not transform the market right away, curious brands that invest in understanding this technology early will have a greater chance of defining and prospering from voice as a channel to market.