To the horror of some and the amazement of others, Amazon.com announced yesterday the Amazon Echo Look, what Amazon.com calls a “hands-free camera and style assistant”. Echo Look is a new device with a camera and microphone intended to be in your bathroom, bedroom or closet. That’s right, a camera in the most private spaces in your life. Amazon.com is one of the most trusted consumer brands so there can’t be any nefarious reason this is being done, right? It’s important to know how Amazon.com makes their money and where they want to make more in the future.
What Amazon says Echo Look does
According to Amazon, the Echo Look is intended to help users choose the right outfit for the day. You stand in your bedroom, bathroom, or wherever you get dressed, say “Alexa, take a picture” (or video, 360 video), Look takes a full-length photo or video, and Style Check will tell you how good your outfit “works”. You can also share these pictures and videos with anyone you wish.
In my house of five, this happens a lot with my teenagers, either in-person or on a smartphone in front of a mirror. Look is essentially replicating that trusted fashion adviser in the house or friends on the smartphone. Amazon says these recommendations are done with machine learning based on “fit, color, styling and current trends.” Echo Look also has similar features to Echo and Dot for a voice assistant to get weather, the news, sports scores and add items to shopping lists via voice.
How Amazon drives their revenue and profits
Amazon.com is a very interesting company financially. It essentially sells goods and services globally on a near break-even basis globally, at a loss internationally, and then make a ton of profits on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) business. The company is planning ways to drive future top-line revenue by increasing the categories they sell and increasing share in categories. One big growth opportunity for the company is clothing and one of the biggest objections to on-line clothing shopping is “fit” and “look” as you can’t “try-on” clothes on-line. Or can you?
One vital element to Amazon.com’s future success is that they know what you want to buy and when you want to buy it. That sounds simple, right? No, it’s very, very hard. Amazon.com already knows what you look at, what you buy, don’t buy, want to buy, where you work, where you live, where you travel (via GPS), your friend’s names and addresses, book-video-audio-game genres you prefer, inferred income and age and gender. Yes, the company knows a lot about you already. But it needs to know more about you to sell you more specific things and if the rumors are true, start hitting you with ads.
Echo Looks give Amazon the deepest personal profiles yet
Amazon built Echo Look because it needed to know more about you to increase the chance they can sell you more products and services on a more frequent basis. And as I alluded to before, with all this capability, why not setup an ad network?
Amazon Echo Look in your bathroom
So, what could Amazon.com infer from the new capabilities Echo Look brings to the table? Remember, it captures and runs machine learning against everything it sees:
- Clothing: “would you like to look at scarves that would look great with that sweater?”
- Visualization: “would you like to see how that sweater would look with those pants?”
- Fitting: “put on a tight t-shirt and we will scan in your body to make exact sizing measurements”
- Weight: “interested in weight-loss books or exercise tapes?”
- Pregnancy: “need diapers or a crib in the future?”
- Sleep: Sees the bags under your eyes… “have you tried the new MyPillow.com?”
- Age: “did you know Ibuprofen is good for osteoporosis?”
- Teeth: sees my crooked teeth…. “did you know seven local orthodontists have specials going on for full braces for $1,000?”
- Makeup: sees my age spots …. “have you heard about Vanishcream?”
- Cologne: sees my cheap bottle on the counter and suggests something new to buy from Amazon
- Toiletries: sees the tube of Crest toothpaste…. “have you tried Colgate’s new Beamwhite toothpaste?”
You get the idea. This is just a smattering of what the new Amazon Look could do.
I do not believe Amazon.com is up to something nefarious. It is being capitalists who are trying to make their shareholders and themselves more money. That’s what they get paid to do. Amazon.com is tapping the extremes of the 100-year-old trade-off between allowing yourself to be spied upon in return for a benefit. Since the dawn of the days of mail order catalogs and credit cards, we have agreed, many times unknowingly, to allow companies to harvest information about us and use it for themselves or sell to other parties. Facebook isn’t “free” either, it’s subsidized with ads. I wrote extensively about Facebook’s capitalistic motivations behind their F8 announcements here. Google search, Maps, Mail and Android isn’t free either, it’s given in exchange for tracking everything about you. Echo Look is the same concept on steroids.
If you’re comfortable with that exchange, go for it, if not stay miles away from Echo Look, the ultimate device to build user profiles with your most personal information.