Alexa speaks Amazon sales success

Amazon reports growth in Alexa-powered services in latest financial filing

Online retail giant Amazon has posted an increase in sales of 27% to $136bn, compared with $107bn in 2015, and has said net sales increased 28% compared with 2015.

Amazon reported record sales of Alexa, its voice-enabled service, with Alexa-enabled devices being the top-selling products across all categories on Amazon.com during the holiday season.

According to Amazon, customers purchased and gifted a record-setting number of devices from the Amazon Echo family, with sales up more than nine times compared with 2015’s holiday season.

Sales of its Fire tablet devices also rose, along with Fire TV and the voice-enabled Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote.

Amazon also said customers purchased millions of Fire tablets during 2016’s holiday season, with Amazon introducing Alexa onFire HD 10, Fire HD 8 and other Fire tablets. 

The company said third-party developers released more than 4,000 Alexa Skills since October 2016, including ADT, AT&T, CBS, Pizza Hut and The Wall Street Journal.

It also said tens of thousands of developers are building skills for Alexa,  alongside tens of thousands of developers integrating Alexa Voice Services into their own applications and devices. These include Dish DVRs, Ford and Volkswagen vehicles, GE C Lamp, Huawei Mate 9, LG Smart Instaview fridge and Whirlpool appliances.

Amazon used the earnings report to highlight its efforts in artificial intelligence (AI), saying it had selected 12 teams to participate in the inaugural Alexa Prize, an annual university competition dedicated to accelerating the field of conversational AI.

The teams are building socialbots on Alexa that will converse with humans on popular topics and news events, and the winner will be announced at Amazon Web Services (AWS) re:Invent 2017.

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Brian T Olsavsky, chief financial office at Amazon, would not be drawn on the specifics regarding sales of Alexa devices such as the Echo and Echo Dot, but in a transcript of the earnings call, posted on the Seeking Alpha financial blogging site, he said: “We’ve added 4,000 skills to Alexa since October 2016 and we’re working with a lot of major companies as they add abilities, too, for our customer base to use the Alexa or the Echo to reach them.

“Tens of thousands of developers are building skills for Alexa, so the skills addition should continue. Just as importantly, tens of thousands of developers are also using the Alexa Voice Service to help integrate Alexa into their products, which then creates a great network effect. We’re doing that ourselves.

“If you’ve seen in the quarter, we added Alexa capabilities to our tablets and Fire TV devices, making them better. So it’s a great part of the flywheel in that Echo and Alexa make the devices better and it builds engagement, not only with Echo and Alexa, but also with Amazon.”

Steve Hewitt, head of retail at Capgemini, said it was early days for voice-enabled retail. “In the next few years there will an evolution of customer interfaces to more conversational user interfaces, and we will see more compelling uses of voice.”

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