Last year in Las Vegas, the presence of Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant service could not be overstated. Just like at CEDIA this past fall, Amazon dominated the conversation at CES 2017, by getting its voice assistant integrated into nearly every new product that was present on the show floor.
This year, it was almost immediately apparent upon landing in Vegas that Google planned to play some serious catch-up. Google signage was everywhere. Their employees were out in force. And they had some incredible promotions going on throughout the show that created hours-long lines. In the end, it’d be safe to assume that the world’s leading search company stole the show and perhaps took a lead when in the voice assistant game—and that’s something that should every single consumer electronics retailer should pay attention to.
For the less informed, Google Assistant is Google’s answer to Amazon Alexa. Beyond the typical smart home functionality—i.e. being able to turn on your TV, coffee pot, lights, etc., with your voice—Google Assistant’s real leg up on the competition is the fact that it gives the user access to Google’s massive search library, as well as other content, data, and support from the rest of the Google ecosystem (Gmail, Music, Notes, and more).
At CES 2018, Google Assistant gurus were visible throughout every hall, helping to promote the integration of the platform into countless products. White jumpsuit-clad individuals were at the Gourmia booth, for example, explaining how consumers can control their kitchen appliances with their voice. Westinghouse was just one of the TV manufacturers to introduce a Google Assistant-enabled TV. Pioneer showed off a head unit that gives drivers access to the voice service. The product intros with Google Assistant were endless. (Amazon Alexa, of course, had numerous integration announcements, but the visibility was far lower than in the past two years.)
But as exciting as all of the new product announcements are, retailers should feel an extra bit of pep in their step thanks to Google.
Google Assistant is the voice assistant that retailers have been waiting for to stock on their shelves—both physical and virtual. Sure, you might see an Alexa product here and there at retail, but there’s always been this uneasy vibe around retailers stocking Amazon product in their store, and especially Alexa-enabled gadgets. I mean, think about it for a minute: When a retailer sells an Alexa product, they’re giving the consumer a platform that’s built around the largest ecommerce website known to man. Sure, an Echo (or Echo-like product) lets you control your lights and play silly games. But that’s not the real drive behind getting Alexa in everyone’s homes. Alexa gives users access to Amazon’s online catalog, and it can be used to swiftly shop. So, effectively, retailers are selling their customers a product that lets them shop elsewhere.
Google, on the other hand, isn’t interested (quite as much, anyway) in getting consumers to shop elsewhere. Of course they care about the search data and being able to use it to target advertising at users. But the Google Home line of products and other gadgets with Google Assistant functionality aren’t going to inherently cannibalize retailers’ business the way Alexa can and is.
Manufacturers realize this as well, and we heard as much from at least one company. The unnamed brand told Dealerscope that they were having a tough time getting CE retailers to put their Alexa-enabled product on their shelves because of what Amazon is capable of doing with Alexa. And, that being the case, the manufacturer responded to those concerns by launching a Google Assistant-ready product this year.
If there’s one way that retailers can hit back at Amazon, it’s by not selling Alexa speakers and products. But, in addition to that, they can give a platform to a much more retail-friendly set of products that are Google Assistant-ready.