retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Last week, Google unveiled a new product - Google Home - which at its most basic can be described as competition to Amazon's highly successful Echo ... a voice-activated computer without a screen or keyboard that can be used to activate and access a variety of products and services.

This new product introduction, a variety of stories point out, reflects what is likely to be a new level of competition in the high-tech sector.

Time writes that "for consumers, Google Home and the Amazon Echo can answer questions about the weather, set alarms, and manage appointments, among other tasks. For the companies that make them, the devices offer a new source of valuable data about their customers — as well as a shiny new gizmo to keep consumers tied more closely to their respective ecosystems."

But The New Yorker points to something more elemental about this new competition - that, as Google CEO Sundar Pichai says, "because computing technology is becoming smaller and more powerful, computers can be built in all kinds of forms. Building devices is no longer hard. The difficult part - and the part that will distinguish products from one another - is the experience that computers facilitate."

This strikes me as an observation that is both highly specific to this competition as well as a metaphor for much of retailing.

Specific, I think, because people are going to be making choices based on both the relevance of the accessible services and the ecosystem with which they are most familiar. I've actually got an Echo on order - mostly because the experiences that friends and family have had with it have been so positive that it simply became a no-brainer. We ordered it before the Google Home came out, but I have no regrets ... for better or for worse, I've found a home within the Amazon ecosystem and a level of comfort that I would never ascribe to Google's.

(What is amazing to me is how irrelevant to this whole discussion Apple's Siri seems to be - it only seems to be mentioned in this conversations when people describe the Echo as "like Siri, but it works." Talk about a missed opportunity.)

In a metaphorical sense, I think that Pichai's comments are important. The retailing box is far less important than the products and services they offered ... and those products and services have to be measured in terms of the relevant experience they provide.

It is an Eye-Opener.
KC's View: