The difference is that Amazon has data to prove what’s popular and easy to sell, and free shipping to get people to buy it online instead of in the store. (That’s gotten the attention of the European Commission, which is looking into whether Amazon is harming competition by using data from its sellers to develop its own products.) You can now buy Amazon-produced electric kettles, toasters, office chairs, knife sets, neoprene dumbbells, comforters, suitcases — name a product you’d find in a Walmart, and it’s probably already made and sold under the AmazonBasics name. Earlier this month, the company started selling its own mattress, striking fear in the direct-to-consumer mattress startup market dominated by Casper and Tuft & Needle.
Amazon hasn’t been content stopping with smart speakers and just standard old appliances under its AmazonBasics brand. In its quest to put Alexa everywhere, the company now sells a dizzying number of smart home devices that go well beyond its core speaker and set-top box beginnings. First there was the Echo Dot, to help bring Alexa to analog speaker systems and get the voice assistant into more rooms of the home. Then there was the Echo Look, for AI-assisted outfit recommendations, and the Echo Show, which contained a display and camera for video chatting and was designed to be a hands-free screen for the kitchen.
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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.