The big appeal of the Amazon Echo is that it’s hands-free. You say something, it responds. Since this interface comes from the world’s biggest e-commerce company, the common wisdom is that Amazon is trying to create a world where it’s hard not to buy whatever you want from the so-called “everything store,” if only because the Echo makes it so simple. Amazon execs have effectively said as much in the past.
Now, though, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos appears to be throwing cold water on the idea. Speaking to Billboard last week, Bezos said that “voice interface is only going to take you so far on shopping,” and that “most online shopping is going to be facilitated by having a display.” Instead, Bezos said, the Echo’s Alexa assistant is “primarily” about using voice tech to simplify tasks around the house.
So what’s behind Bezos’ thinking? Well, for one, the CEO himself has said that voice tech is still a long ways from perfection. (We’ve seen how that’s evident today.) Another reason, as this chart from Statista shows, is that most Echo owners just aren’t using the device to buy things. According to a late 2016 study by Experian, only 32% of the 180 Echo owners surveyed have asked Alexa to buy something on Amazon Prime.
Instead, as Bezos suggests, people tend to use Alexa for less complicated tasks, like playing music, reading the news, or controlling smart lights. The tech world may be right to be bullish on voice tech, and in a few years Amazon may find a way to turn Alexa into a self-sustaining shopping machine. But people still like their screens today. Maybe it’s not a surprise, then, that the next Echo device will reportedly come with its own display.