Jorge Serna

@jorge.serna

Amazon Anytime, can that work? (3) — What else to do?

Amazon may launch a messaging app, competing in Facebook’s domain. But does it stand a chance?

According to recent information, Amazon is working on “Anytime” an application, that would compete with Facebook’s WhatsApp or Messenger in the social communications space.

This is the last part in a (short) series of posts looking at several aspects of Anytime:

Does Anytime fit with Alexa?

The rumors of Anytime come very close to Amazon’s launch of another communications product: their Alexa Calling and Messaging Service.

This communication service was announced coinciding with the launch of the Amazon Echo Show. It is being marketed as a way for Echo devices to communicate with each other, providing a sort of intercom functionality, but it also supports app-based communications.

Arguably, the app approach is offered for a family member on the go to (video) call home (see min 1:48):

But the fact is that the Alexa app also allows app-to-app calls, and users can set up an account without owning a Echo device. So all in all, the Alexa calls and messages do work as a “complete” independent communication experience. (Well, maybe not so “complete” since the app still offers no photo or video sharing, which is a basic capability nowadays. Images are complicated to be shared with a speaker, but with the display-based new Echo Show I expect this soon will change. )

So users can build a network of contacts around the Alexa app, mostly based on Echo device ownership but not necessarily restricted to that. And, as I discussed in the “Ugly” section of my previous post, Anytime would also have to build such a network without users having a clear incentive for it.

Should Amazon devote energy and resources to grow TWO separate consumer-focused social communication networks? (and I am consciously ignoring here their business communication tool, Chime, because the drivers for building such a network within a specific company is very different)

Social graph density is the key factor for success or failure for these initiatives, and keeping them separate would only weaken them. So I believe that the answer is ‘no’ and that they should create just one network and make it as strong as possible.

What if Anytime is actually a consumer brand for the Alexa Calling and Messaging service, that will gain its own identity? That could make sense, and I can see several advantages to this:

  • It would leverage the initial base of Echo owners/users to jump-start the numbers in the social graph. This, for markets with Echo presence (currently the US, UK and Germany), would mean the first Anytime users have a bigger chance of finding available contacts to start using the app, which creates a higher engagement than finding an empty address book on first use. This might help Amazon to fulfill their “Everyone’s on it” promise.
  • For a pure social communication app focused on fun communications with friends (think SnapChat) using the Echo network would be a weight down rather than a catalyst. But for a communications app which is looking at utilitarian use and aiming to position itself as a eCommerce channel (“and even shop!” they claim as a product advantage) can work. Being related to a device in which you order products using your voice may be the right mental associations for an app in which you buy things interacting with a bot via messaging.
  • It would be a step into fixing some of the problems in the experience for the current Alexa app. The current app tries to do too much: it is a Echo device set-up and configuration tool, it is a history log of your transactions with Alexa from devices, it is a music player control, it is a communications tool… but you cannot use it to ask a question to Alexa! I guess that situation is a result of the application evolving organically as the Echo devices and Alexa service grew in ambition and complexity, but the situation now feels a bit messy. Taking out the communication capabilities and making them a separate application makes sense for Alexa, the Echoes, and the communication service itself. Much more than when Facebook split Messenger from the social network app.
  • It would make the Echoes more useful, giving them a richer communication service. If Anytime is presented as an attractive service by itself, saying “you can now use Anytime from your Echo” benefits both Anytime and Echo devices. I have discussed before why communications in the Amazon Echo are a needed feature.

But while making Anytime the featured communication solution for the Alexa devices is a good way to leverage their platform ownership, Amazon should keep in mind opening up their platform so that other communication services can work on top of their Echoes. I discussed this at length in my post about the potential communications strategy for Amazon, but, with the competition for smart speakers/home intelligent assistants coming from Google, Apple or even Alibaba, limiting the options on the device to encourage the usage of Anytime may end up discouraging the use of Echo instead.

Taking a page from Apple’s book, the opportunity sits at creating their own solution (Anytime for Amazon, or iMessage in Apple’s case), making it the best and default option in the platform (Echoes or the iPhone) and allowing developers to offer alternative services (like WhatsApp), creating a market opportunity for both.

Other routes to Messaging eCommerce

There is also another field that Amazon should consider in order to face, and even leverage, the coming wave of eCommerce in messaging services. Why not, instead of trying to own the communications channel, look at other channels available as opportunities?

If Amazon fears the threat of eCommerce in comms becoming a problem, they could put some efforts in co-opetition rather than competition. Creating Amazon channels for Facebook Messenger, Telegram or the coming WhatsApp for business is something they should push, and would allow them to:

  • Get a better understanding of the field and learn from consumer behaviors here. Then they can take those learnings into Anytime and be able to make an even better experience, as there they will control it 100%.
  • Leverage their existing retail strength, turning the eCommerce messaging into an uphill battle for smaller players trying to create their own channels.
  • Use their relevance on those channels to try to incentivize users into moving those conversations to Anytime. That way their presence in a communications channel like Facebook Messenger can become a Trojan Horse to eventually move audiences to Anytime.

Becoming the incumbent on messaging eCommerce ,as they are today on the web, is the way for Amazon to leverage their existing strengths and avoid the risk of Facebook, which owns the main channels but not the relevant content (eCommerce), becoming a competitor.

But this approach entails another risk. If Amazon cannot win enough strength to move the conversations to their own channels or are not able to become relevant enough to properly negotiate with Facebook (or other channel owners), there can be a serious economic impact in its margins. This is because channel owners will take some sort of cut for the transactions happening through them (either a per transaction or a bulk channel fee, but less money for Amazon anyway). But the alternative of not being present on those channels if they are successful is losing the whole market, channel costs plus retail sales, and that is something Amazon cannot allow to happen.

More by Jorge Serna

Topics of interest

More Related Stories