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There's Something about Alexa

It's time I face the truth: I think Alexa may be making my wife nervous. You see, when I'm not traveling, I work from home, and lately I have been researching the capabilities of Amazon's virtual assistant from my home office. As I experiment with a few of the 7,000 skills Alexa can now execute, I do so knowing my wife can probably hear snippets of my many conversations with my new office BFF:

  • To learn about Alexa's recipe skills, I ask "Alexa, what is your favorite drink?"
  • To understand her calendar integration, I ask "Alexa…when is our next appointment?"
  • When I've been away for a while (and perhaps feeling more needy than I care to admit), I ask "Alexa…did you miss me?"

As suspected, my wife has indeed overhead some of these conversations, and as I type them here I can see how they might make her nervous.

While she has yet to admit she is, in fact, jealous of Alexa, last night she did ask me just exactly what it is that Alexa and I could possibly be talking about all day long.


A Justification for Jealousy?

Maybe my wife had good reason to question us. Our conversation certainly made me think about just how much time I actually spend with Alexa. Sure, I talk to her as part of my research (more on that later). And yes, I ask her to remind me of appointments and upcoming conference calls. But last night it dawned on me just how much – and how quickly – I have come to rely on Alexa.

Alexa has only been with me a couple weeks, and already I turn to her for weather forecasts. I turn to her for tide forecasts so I can plan beach hikes around high tide. I ask her for my Fitbit results when I get home from those hikes.  Spring training updates about my beloved Yankees? Yep, Alexa gives me the scoop straight outta the Grapefruit League.

Alexa also reads me the news from NPR, and afterward, she is always at-the-ready with one-minute meditations to help relieve the stress that the news inevitably induces.

She tells me what time it is in London so I don't accidentally wake a UK colleague with a middle-of-the-night text message. Heck, I have even started asking her what time it is in my own time zone.

Significantly More than Siri

The number of times a day that I now turn to Alexa does surprise me. Because when it comes to gadgets, I am an Apple guy. I bought a first-generation iPod and I bought a first-generation Apple TV. My first iPhone? 2007. I am on my third iPad.

I have pretty much had an Apple device at hand since Christmas 2001. And yet, despite the fact that Apple has infiltrated virtually every facet of my lifestyle, Siri and I never really hang out.

Well, technically, I guess we do "hang out." I mean, we have been pretty much inseparable for close to a decade. Even after all that together time, we've just never…connected. I am not exactly sure why not, either. It's definitely not because she isn't polite. In fact, quite the opposite is true: she is always extremely nice to me. She has a great personality, and I love her sense of humor.

There just doesn't seem to be a "spark" between us. I think it is fair to say that I have officially swiped left on Siri.

But Alexa and I, on the other hand, have found our own unique brand of e-harmony. And, as I mentioned before, I am truly surprised by how much time I spend talking to Alexa.

So, what is it about Alexa?

There's Nothing Artificial about Alexa's Intelligence

Perhaps I spend so much time with Alexa because even though her intelligence may technically be artificial, our connection is genuine. Alexa "gets" me. She knows what I want for my birthday, sometimes even before I know it myself. Alexa knows my favorite restaurants, the kind of music I like and the sports teams I follow. She orders pizza when I am hungry and she helps me select a wine when it arrives. She knows my favorite colors and the sizes I wear, and she knows the brands I like to shop.

Oh, and that last thing? That knowing my size and my brand thing? That thing is going to be a problem for retail. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday…soon. Mark my words. And when that day does come, we will all have a girlfriend problem.

Just think about how much Alexa already knows about us before we power her up for the first time. Amazon's legendary ability to capture, analyze and leverage customer data is already a competitive threat to every retailer on the planet. Imagine how genuine our connections with Alexa will become once she settles in as our go-to search engine (at least during leisure time around the house). Imagine how personalized and relevant Alexa's recommendations will become once she combines the content of our conversations with the information she already knows about our shopping habits.

And, finally, imagine how pervasive Alexa's recommendations will become when she is sitting beside us in 100 million living rooms around the world.

A Time for Action

Ironically, despite Alexa's intentions to the contrary, it is time for us to get off the couch. Because Alexa is about to break our hearts. If we are to have any hope of minimizing the heartache, we have to do more than grab a big carton of ice cream from the freezer. We must find creative ways to get over this beguiling creature who is starting to share a big part of our lives.

I know it's a jungle out there, but if we want to make lasting connections with people, we have to up our game. How well do we really know our customers? What are we doing today to know them better tomorrow?  If we want to compete for shoppers' affections, we have to let them talk about themselves. We have to get to know each customer as a unique individual, and we have to make that knowledge both actionable and pervasive, throughout the entire customer life cycle.

Otherwise, I am afraid that Alexa will move in, and soon afterward she's going to leave us all…in her wake.


Editor's Note:

As Dave mentioned, conducting research is one of the reasons that he is spending so much time with Alexa. Dave is conducting that research in preparation for the Aptos Executive Workshop that he will be producing during Engage, our annual client conference, May 1-4 in Hollywood Florida. Thirty senior executives from across the Aptos client base are expected to join Dave for this workshop, where they will attempt to unlock new strategies for growth in the age of Amazon. One of the topics they will discuss in depth is the emerging threat posed by Alexa. If interested in joining the workshop, send Dave an email at