The Echo line and its Alexa assistant are Amazon’s avenues into our physical lives and our digital behaviors. With the data it collects, Amazon is able to better understand how we shop and how we want the devices of the future to listen, respond, and problem solve as if they were other human beings. Amazon has stiff competition in this space, primarily from Apple and Google, but its early investments in smart speakers and AI have helped Amazon overcome its absence in the key consumer markets like mobile, search, and social networks. As a result, Amazon has made early and tangible inroads in developing an ecosystem that customers will find increasingly hard to abandon down the line.
Yet the more monumental retail push occurred last summer, when Amazon purchased grocery chain Whole Foods for $13.7 billion and proved, yet again, that Bezos is willing and able to buy his way into a new market when it’s unfavorable to start from scratch. Amazon now uses Whole Foods’ grocery pick-up and delivery perks and in-store discounts as a way to reward its Prime subscribers. It’s also using its massive resources to lower Whole Foods prices, making it more competitive with Kroger, Target, and Walmart. In response, Walmart has begun investing heavily in e-commerce and grocery delivery to protect its turf from Amazon, setting the stage for an unprecedented retail war.
The infomercial industry is huge and is worth a staggering $250 billion as of 2015. It all started back in the late 40’s and early 50’s when major sponsors of serial television programs were soap manufacturers (i.e. Proctor & Gamble, Lever Brothers and Colgate-Palmolive), which is how “soap operas” got their name. There is some controversy although the first infomercial is thought to have been for a blender either made by VitaMix or Waring Blenders and aired in 1949 or 1950. Time limits for commercials were imposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) not too long after this which halted the growth of infomercials until 1984 when those limits were removed.