Amazon Adds ‘Instant Pickup’ Points To Brick-And-Mortars

Amazon is rolling out instant pickup points on five college campuses where shoppers can collect their items immediately after ordering, Reuters reported Tuesday — a move aimed at shortening delivery wait times as well as expanding the company’s brick-and-mortar ambitions following the launch of pop-up stores and its major acquisition of grocery emporium Whole Foods.

Here’s how it works: Shoppers on the Amazon mobile app can select from several hundred pre-available items at each “kiosk” location. Then, Amazon employees in a back room load the ordered items into lockers within two minutes, and customers receive bar codes on their mobile devices in order to access them.

The initial limited rollout reportedly sees Amazon making a physical push for fast-selling items that shoppers might not ordinarily order online — like drinks or snacks — as well as a few more substantial products, like phone chargers. So, is Amazon aiming to compete with vending machines?

The Retailer Response

While the rollout might at first appear to simply put Amazon in competition with Coke machines, the long view of the impact is quite different. This isn’t about soft drinks: As Forrester analyst Ananda Chakravarty put it, “this might work for some electronic gadgets that are not commonly available at vending machines, [but] two minutes is too long to wait for a soda can.”

Instead, this indicates that Amazon has the drive — and likely, the means — to begin putting instant pickup into practice for a much wider range of products. Might real-time pickup of shoes or books be next, further threatening brick-and-mortars?

Perhaps. But the silver lining for physical retailers is that their stores already function as instant pickup points; it’s simply about integrating the technology aspect so that customers can find or purchase their products on demand.

As we wrote earlier this year, brick-and-mortar businesses are actually the backbone of delivery enterprises like Postmates, which uses the city and the city’s retailers essentially as its warehouses. These types of partnerships could be one of the keys to competing with the likes of Amazon: The physical store locations act as stockrooms, and companies like Postmates provide the immediate or near-immediate local delivery — acting as a competitor to Amazon Prime.

“In a sense, yes, what we’re allowing these retailers to do is to emulate what Amazon is doing with Prime Now,” said Holger Luedorf, former SVP of business at Postmates. “They can do the same thing because they have a great variety of goods, and the only thing they are missing is the logistics piece. And that can be solved [through] partnerships.”

Additionally, retailers like Kohl’s have seen success through embracing buy online, pick-up in-store programs to address the “instant” aspect. After all, brick-and-mortars don’t need take their time rolling out instant pickup “kiosks”; they have the stores.

For its part, Target has taken a direct step to tackle one of the primary holes in its omnichannel strategy by acquiring transportation tech company Grand Junction to promise same-day delivery to customers — a clear step to address Amazon’s moves as retail undergoes a rapid transformation.

Amazon’s next steps are unknown. But the brick-and-mortar future will almost certainly continue to rely on on-demand partnerships — both with Amazon and with other competitors — and “instant pickup” is an option that existing retailers need to embrace now.

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How Voice-Activation Is Becoming The New ‘Touch’

The adoption rate of smart speakers with voice assistants grew 140 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to a survey from music streaming service Pandora and Edison Research.

In particular, Pandora usage on these devices grew by a 282 percent year-over-year.

Wit that growth in mind, Pandora sought to get a sense of how the rise of devices such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, and Microsoft’s Cortana is opening up new opportunities for marketers to reach multiple household members in contextually relevant ways they couldn’t before.

The research bears out much of what NPR found in its recent examination of the role of voice-activation and consumers’ media usage. Roughly 65 percent of people who own an Amazon Echo or Google Home can’t imagine to going back to the days before they had a smart speaker, and 42 percent of that group say the voice-activated devices have quickly become “essential” to their lives, NPR’s research said.

Among the obvious points both NPR and Pandora’s separate studies found: listening to music was the initial reason people sought these devices for. But the use cases of have quickly mushroomed.

With Apple emphasizing entertainment as part of its marketing behind its Siri-powered smart speaker, Homepod — which is set to be released in December — the next phase of audio and voice activation may be only just emerging. But it is emerging at a rapid rate.

From Touch To Talking

As Keri Degroote, vice president of research and analytics at Pandora, notes,  it is critical for brands to align their strategies accordingly.

“Voice-activated-everything is spreading like wildfire,”Degroote says. “From what we’ve seen, yes Smart Speakers have just surpassed any fad or experimental phase. The demographics of users (particularly the high proportion of 55+) suggest that this is no longer early adopters, but has hit the mass market. And the frequency with which these devices are used amongst consumers show the true value of bringing them into their homes.”

There is still room to grow in terms of users, functionality and integration – look back on the iPhone’s launch a little over 10 years ago, she adds.

“What brand can you name that doesn’t have a presence on the app store these days?” Degroote says. “And how many brands wish they were on the top of app-store charts in the early days to secure that prime home-screen positioning? It is important brands don’t play catch up in two- or three years’ time and find themselves in the same position.”

Still, Larry Rosin, president of Edison Research, notes that the adoption curve may be different from some of the other technologies and platforms that consumers have popularized since the iPhone emerged.

For example, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, as well as fitness trackers and wearables, have tended to be driven first by younger tech aficionados. The rise of voice-activation has been driven by people who are older and more affluent.

“This is not just a ‘young people’s technology’ like video gaming, for example. It’s much broader in terms of its appeal. So the adoption curve is going to be a bit different than with previous technologies. To start, connected home devices are not the cheapest products. But it depends on how you consider them: if you think of them as a computer, they’re generally not that expensive. If you think of them as a novelty, then you might consider them a bit pricey. For people who can afford these devices, voice-activated devices are quite practical.”

Here are some of the topline findings of Pandora’s study, which was based on interviews with 444 U.S. adults who own a voice-activated smart speaker: Amazon Echo, Dot, Tap, or Google Home:

  • Voice-enabled home devices are creating a rise in audio consumption and music. On a weekly basis, 69 percent of people are regularly tuning into audio content on their voice-enabled smart speakers with 58 percent tuning into music for an average of 4 hours and 34 minutes per week.
  • We now search, make inquiries and buy with our voices. 46 percent of people are checking the weather, 42 percent get a joke, “Easter egg” or converse, and 40 percent are asking general questions on where to find a store or how to cook a particular recipe. 29 percent plan to make purchases with top items being technology, household goods and beauty products.
  • Adoption is beyond fast. While it took many years for there to be multiple TVs in the home, 1 out of 3 people already have 2 or more voice-enabled devices across different rooms in their home.
  • These devices are not just for the young and tech-savvy. 40 percent of these device owners are between the ages of 35-54 with younger Gen Z and Millennials, 18-34 (35 percent) coming in second (35 percent). 
  • Voice-activated devices are also social. 77 percent of people are listening to music on these devices with friends and family: creating new ways for advertisers to engage multiple members of the household at home.

What Does Voice Mean For Marketers?

When looking at the the most popular usage patterns Pandora’s study notes, it’s worth considering whether voice-activation is for all marketers — or just some who can meet a direct question-and-answer response that depends on a certain immediate need.

Can voice-activated assistants have greater impact on the purchase a consumer packaged goods product, as opposed to, say, buy a car or real estate?

“From a short-term perspective, yes it appears that brands that serve immediate needs (like CPG products) are best positioned to capitalize on Smart Speakers,” says Degroote. “This is another way of search functionality, only this time done through voice. Users are already turning to smart speakers and voice assistants to talk, search, entertain, shop, etc in moments where they may have used a screen in the past.

“However, data from a follow up study on the Pandora Soundboard suggests that Voice Assistants are going to be key referral sources for a whole range of consumer needs,” she adds.

Around 60 percent said that they’ll use Smart Speakers to find stores and business locations, suggest entertainment content like TV shows and movies, and make restaurant recommendations in the future.

“We can easily see this evolving to Voice Assistants being the first ‘port-of-call’ on how to maximize tax deductions, or develop a training routine or physiotherapy exercises –a perfect opportunity for more service-based industries to deliver their messaging and offer their services to consumers,” Degroote says.

Advertising And The Company Of Others

As Pandora’s research suggests, the use of voice may have a more social aspect to it as opposed to the smartphone, which has come to represent the most personal of “personal computing.”

Does that mean the advertising we’re used to seeing on mobile and social channels will need to reflect that the voice-activation experience is not necessarily “solo.” What impact is that social aspect likely to have — or should have — on marketing strategies aimed at leveraging smart speakers?

“Brands need to be aware of messaging to consumers on Smart Speakers, or any Connected Home device for that matter (Smart TVs, Fridges, Games Consoles),” Degroote says. “On Pandora, the majority of our listening is on mobile which usually dictates a one-to-one creative approach.”

If a listener is in their car listening via their Connected Dash, the situation changes — they could be with their children or by themselves, which may change the way a brand wants to communicate with them and “show them they know them,” Degroote notes.

“We estimate that over 50 percent of listening via Connected Home devices is done in the company of others, which gives brands the opportunity to reach many listeners at once during a number of moments and occasions,” she adds. “Being able to serve a contextual message to a father playing with his kids on the weekend, or a couple hosting a dinner party for their old college friends on Saturday night provides marketers a great opportunity to reach consumers at key moments that create relevance for their products.”

For Edison’s Rosin, who notes he’s something of an outlier among digital assistant owners: he has one voice-activated device in his kitchen and one in his bedroom. Most people tend to have them in their living room. And that will have a significant affect in the experience that people expect from the media and ads they receive from these devices.

“There is plenty of evidence that most people are using these devices while they’re together, as opposed to being alone,” Rosin says. “Audio has been hot for awhile, and the combination of audio and shared interactivity, suggests that voice and listening is only going to become more central in the way people use computers.”

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Age of Amazon: Stores’ Lack Of Responsiveness Is A Prime Problem

Pretty much all brand marketers agree that “responsiveness: the ability to source, understand and then quickly react to feedback, preferences and needs” is crucial to the delivery of an exceptional customer experience as expectations driven by Amazon and the on-demand economy have shaped consumers’ views.

But all too few can say that their businesses can meet those expectations.

In a CMO Council survey of 153 senior marketing executives (54 percent of whom are CMOs), 90 percent concede responsiveness is important, if not critical, to attracting and retaining customers and maintaining competitive viability.

However, only 16 percent of marketers feel their organizations are extremely responsive to the consumer, failing to make changes to products, packaging, services and experiences based on real-time consumer requests and feedback.

Is Anyone There?

The CMO Council study, The Responsiveness Requirement: Meeting the Consumer When and Where It Matters to Drive Growth, was conducted with Danaher Corporation’s Product Identification Platform companies, examined the level of success (or lack thereof) when it comes to responding “in the moment,” whether it is a physical or digital touchpoint.

“Customers fully expect for brands to engage at the speed of light—after all, it is exceptional customer experiences from brands like Amazon and Starbucks that have proven that rapid response, personalization and real-time (or near real-time) omnichannel engagements are possible at the push of a button or click of an app,” said Liz Miller, SVP of Marketing for the CMO Council. “This is engagement at the speed of digital, and the customer expects a similar level of responsiveness across all experiences, regardless of whether the channel is physical or digital.”

In general marketers feel they are able to respond or react to consumer feedback, requests, suggestions or complaints specific to marketing campaigns in less than two weeks — which to app-centric consumers may feel like a lifetime.

For the most part, 78 percent of marketers surveyed are able to meet that expectation, with 43 percent actually saying that they are able to respond to the consumer within 24 hours, effectively setting the expectation with consumers that responsiveness is possible.

In those cases, the averages are skewed by online interactions, which are naturally immediate. When it comes to brick-and-mortars, though, that’s when the problems of immediacy show themselves.

About 77 percent of respondents admit it can take up to 90 days to respond and react to customer feedback, suggestions or issues, with 36 percent needing up to three months to respond. In other words, the equivalent of several lifetimes as far as consumers are concerned.

Source: CMO Council

Among the solutions the CMO Council is proposing to spur marketers to ramp up their level of responsiveness:

  • Starting strategic conversations internally to bring product packaging and physical touches like POP displays and promotions into the customer experience dialogue. This isn’t just about printing and getting packaging made; it must be discussed as a critical touch in a multi-touch, connected experience.
  • Setting the expectation that procurement must act as a strategic partner and not just a cost-cutter. Together, marketing and procurement must identify vendors that can meet responsiveness goals, not just budgetary ones.
  • Demanding transparency. Marketers need to develop supply chain relationships that provide continuous data streams with the intentional goal of total transparency across the supply chain to track everything from creative iteration and collaboration to works- in-progress.
  • Broadening the meaning of omnichannel to including everything from social posts to product packaging. It is time to bring physical and digital together, if for no other reason than this: The consumer thinks of us as one brand—not a physical brand and a digital one.

“With recent great advances in digital media delivery, unfortunately, the capability to make changes to physical media has been a laggard,” says Joakim Weidemanis, Group Executive and Vice President, Product Identification at Danaher Corporation. “Many people simply don’t know what’s possible until they decide it will be so. Advances in technology today allow business leaders to demand more speed, higher quality and greater transparency from their partners and vendors than ever before. Even more powerful for global brands is that such technology is available all over the world.”

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How Many New Customers Will Amazon Gain From Whole Foods Acquisition?

Amazon acquired Whole Foods for $13.7 billion last month in a move aimed at solving Amazon’s grocery ambitions as well as addressing Whole Foods’ lagging tech — but how many new customers are Amazon and Whole Foods actually set to gain from the acquisition, respectively?

According to research from 1010data, the move is set to benefit both companies from a consumer spend perspective beyond just the delivery and technology benefits that the acquisition conferred: The 19 percent of Whole Foods customers who don’t shop at Amazon creates an estimated five percent increase in net new customers for Amazon right off the bat.

Prime Members Spend More

“In examining customers who shopped more than once at Whole Foods from June 2016 – May 2017, we found that 81 percent of Whole Foods shoppers are already customers of Amazon,” 101data’s report states. “On the flip side, 29 percent of Amazon’s customers also shop at Whole Foods. The 19 percent of Whole Foods customers who don’t shop at Amazon creates a five percent increase in net new customers for Amazon after the acquisition. On top of that, of all Whole Foods shoppers, 52 percent are Prime members — meaning half of Whole Foods’ customers are already regarded as key Amazon shoppers.”

Additionally, Prime members tend to spend more at Whole Foods, according to the report — so as Amazon continues to acquire more Prime subscribers, it should be a spending boon to both entities, which is another factor that may have influenced Amazon’s acquisition decision.

And as far as Amazon’s professed grocery delivery ambitions? Whole Foods shoppers reportedly have a higher propensity for online grocery shopping, with 10 percent of Whole Foods customers having used an online grocery delivery service in the past 12 months; for comparison, only 5-6 percent of Albertson’s and Kroger’s customers bought groceries online in the same period, which “makes Whole Foods shoppers desirable for a company like Amazon that’s trying to expand their grocery delivery footprint,” the report concludes.

It will take time to for the full benefits of the acquisition to materialize: How (and how soon) will Whole Foods’ traffic — both in terms of its physical stores and its online delivery orders — increase under Amazon’s ownership? But in the meantime, it’s clear that both Amazon and Whole Foods are set to experience initial growth from the new consumer base outside of their current overlap — and that, as Aisle411 CEO Nathan Pettyjohn put it at the time of the acquisition, “with physical store purchases still accounting for nearly 90 percent of all retail transactions even after a decade of e-commerce growth, Amazon realizes that continuing large-scale growth over the next 10 years as a company will require capturing a big slice of the physical store purchasing market — so as long as Amazon can make do with higher margins and less overhead than traditional retail stores.”

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About 14 Percent Of iPhone Owners Plan To Buy Apple Homepod

While it may seem that Amazon Alexa and Okay Google are already firmly established in the voice-activated Connected Home landscape, Apple’s forthcoming entry into that space with Homepod may seem like an uphill battle, but a Raymond James analysis suggests that you can never underestimate the iPhone maker’s devoted customer base.

Raymond James survey of 500 consumers found that 14 percent of iPhone owners are interested in buying Apple’s smart speaker product, Homepod, which, debuted last month at WWDC forum.

To put that number in perspective, Raymond James considered the anticipation for the Apple Watch, which has has had a mixed consumer reception in the marketplace.

Three years ago, when the Apple Watch was first announced, iPhone owners’ purchase intention of that product was only 6 percent.

Homepod’s positioning starts with entertainment, but it doesn’t end there.

“If we combine with those that intend to own a Beats wireless speaker, [Homepod ownership intent] exceeds the ownership interest in both speech enabled speaker leader Amazon, and Bluetooth speaker leader, Bose,” Raymond James analysts Tavis McCourt and Mike Koban write. “Initial interest in HomePod seems better than the tepid media reaction would suggest.”

In terms of how the voice-activated assistant space is shaping up, Parks Associates has noted that adoption of digital voice-activated assistants more than doubled in Q1 as 76 percent of consumers having used spoken commands to their connected device. As such, the timing could hardly be better for Apple’s entry into the space currently commanded by Amazon and Google.

According to Forrester, 33 percent of U.S. online adults say they use intelligent agents like Google Now or Cortana, Forrester notes.

In its outlook for the connected intelligence market in 2017, eMarketer projects that 35.6 million Americans will use a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month for sudden rise of 128.9 percent over last year.

Elsewhere, the native digital assistant installed base is set to exceed 7.5 billion active devices by 2021, which is more than the world population, according to a report by British consultancy Ovum.

At the moment, eMarketer has Amazon’s Echo device with a vast lead amounting to a 70.6 percent share of users in that space. Google Home, which only launched last October, will have to catch up as it has just 23.8 percent of the market.

While the role of Amazon and Google in the Connected Intelligence is largely about dominating the paths to online/offline commerce, Apple appears to be taking a slightly different path.

With Homepod, which is powered by Apple’s pioneering connected intelligence voice-assistant Siri, the company is placing emphasizing the new device as an entertainment hub first, and a Connected Home utility second.

As such, as many consumers still are unsure of how best to use Alexa or Okay Google to initiate a transaction or find a local business, Homepod users may also come at those skills more naturally, having been trained to use voice-activation for fun first. That mirrors the initial use of the iPhone, which then saw its use cases expand over the past decade, changing the way all consumers and businesses interact.

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Can Samsung Digital Assistant Bixby Find Its Voice?

Samsung’s voice-activated mobile assistant, Bixby, is the newest kid on the Connected Intelligence agent block — so new, the Galaxy S8 feature isn’t yet available in the U.S. (or in an English language version, for that matter).

But, with the relatively established brands of the voice-activated assistant landscape like Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, Microsoft Cortana, and Apple’s Siri already vying to the be artificial intelligence concierge through consumer’s smart home speaker systems, Samsung clearly feels it can’t afford to wait any longer.

In a sense, Samsung’s plan is far from a sudden game of catch-up. After all, the company has been at the forefront of making the “smart refrigerator” a mainstream appliance that updates the kitchen as the connected home’s hub.

Still, the company’s other efforts in voice-activated digital assistants have been plagued by delays. Samsung’s smart speaker project, dubbed “Vega,” has actually been in the works for a year, according to a WSJ piece, citing unidentified sources.

Samsung initially hoped to have Bixby’s English-language features ready last Spring, when the S8 was released. The current target for that mobile assistant enhancement is by the end of July, a Samsung rep tells the WSJ. (Note: at least one reader tells us that his Galaxy S8 with Bixby understands his English-word voice commands.)

The Outlook For Voice-Activation

As Samsung looks to its smart speaker for the home, it has clear challenges and advantages.

Parks Associates has noted that adoption of digital voice-activated assistants more than doubled in Q1 as 76 percent of consumers having used spoken commands to their connected device, the timing could hardly be better for Apple’s entry into the space currently commanded by Amazon and Google.

According to Forrester, 33 percent of U.S. online adults say they use intelligent agents like Google Now or Cortana, Forrester notes.

In its outlook for the connected intelligence market in 2017, eMarketer projects that 35.6 million Americans will use a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month for sudden rise of 128.9 percent over last year.

Elsewhere, the native digital assistant installed base is set to exceed 7.5 billion active devices by 2021, which is more than the world population, according to a report by British consultancy Ovum.

At the moment, eMarketer has Amazon’s Echo device with a vast lead amounting to a 70.6 percent share of users in that space. Google Home, which only launched last October, will have to catch up as it has just 23.8 percent of the market.

Meanwhile, Apple and Siri remain wild cards in the space, as its Homepod smart speakers won’t be shipped until December.

So with all that in mind, Samsung certainly has time to catch-up to the current entrants in the race for the connected home. But if its Bixby features wind up with more delays, Samsung, which has had to endure a year of separate controversies, could have a tougher time having its voice-activation being heard by the marketplace.

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Alexa Poised To Play A Bigger Role This Amazon Prime Day

The third annual Prime Day is set on Tuesday, July 11, with the e-commerce giant promising “hundreds of thousands of deals exclusively for Prime members” with 30 hours of deal shopping starting night before – and new deals as often as every five minutes.

And like last year, many of those deals will be aimed at Amazon Echo owners through the device’s voice-activated digital assistant, Alexa.

In a press release, Amazon singles out “voice shopping”  more “Alexa-exclusive deals” for members with an Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Show, Amazon Tap, compatible Fire TV or Fire tablet.

“Amazon is exclusively targeting its consumers who have an Alexa-enabled device, offering early-bird access to their Prime Day deals,” notes Dina Abdelrazik, Analyst, Parks Associates. “This will mark the second year that Amazon pushes ‘voice shopping’ with Alexa-exclusive deals.”

According to Parks Associates data, 17 percent of Amazon Echo owners use the device to shop for goods and services. We expect Amazon’s newest Echo Show iteration, which features a screen, to increase voice-supported shopping further.

One other change in the way Alexa homes will be able to shop includes the first buyers of the video/voice device, the Echo Show.

Pre-orders for the $299 Echo Show began last month with, promising consumers “everything you love about” its voice-activated assistant, Alexa, along with the ability to watch video flash briefings and YouTube, see music lyrics, security cameras, photos, weather forecasts, to-do and shopping lists, and more.

While the Echo Show has been a top-selling electronics device on Amazon (naturally) for the past month, the numbers of those shoppers will not have a perceptible impact in terms of actual sales numbers on Prime Day.

However, the use of the Echo Show, and Alexa generally, will certainly influence the shape how the mix of voice- and visual shopping grows.

As Google and Microsoft’s Bing expand the power of visual search as yet another way consumers can find and shop for products, the complementary aspects of voice and visual queries to generate specific responses, as opposed to a list of hypertext links, will force retailers of all stripes to further reconsider their omnichannel marketing strategies.

“With a screen, Echo Show users can visually see what items they place in a cart and make choices based on the displayed selection of goods,”Abdelrazik adds. “Amazon’s other Alexa devices lack that ability – a limitation that has hindered some consumers from voice shopping on devices like the Echo.”

 Prime Mystery

Just how big Prime Day really is remains a well-kept secret, notes Deborah Weinswig, managing director of Fung Global Retail & Technology, in a blog post.

Last year, estimates of the day’s sales ranged as high as $2.5 billion, Weinswig says, citing figures from Internet Retailer.

“Amazon reported that orders increased by 60 percent worldwide and by 50 percent in the US on Prime Day,” Weinswig writes. “Even in 2015, Amazon commented that its Prime Day sales exceeded its Black Friday sales in 2014.”

In a comparison of contrived shopping holidays, Prime Day is way below China e-commerce hegemon Alibaba’s Singles’ Day, which saw $17.8 billion worth of gross merchandise volume last year.

“The shopping holiday serves several purposes,” Weinswig says. “First, it offers exclusive deals for Prime members, rewarding them for their membership. Second, it drives Prime membership, as nonmembers are offered free trial memberships.

“Amazon figured out long ago that Prime memberships represent a virtuous circle for the company: signing up Prime members and providing them with exclusive benefits encourages them to renew their membership the next year and encourages others to sign up for the program who will then renew their own membership,” Weinswig says.

The relative success of Prime membership shopping programs could mean that a saturation point is fast approaching. There were 80 million Prime members in the US in March 2017, twice as many as two years earlier, according to Weinswig. That represent 64 percent of US households.

As rivals like Walmart expand its own responses to Amazon’s e-tail dominance, Amazon’s ability to reduce fees and offering more deals and still make the program worthwhile has to hit a wall at some point in the near future.

So as rival retailers at all levels gird themselves for Amazon Prime Day’s onslaught, the time is right to fine-time their own responses and personalized marketing tools.

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U.S. Consumers Use Voice-Activated Tech More Than The Rest Of The World

When it comes to the growth of voice-activation for everything from search to restaurant reservations, U.S. consumers have been more enthusiastic adopters compared to their counterparts in other countries.

About half of U.S. participants (49 percent) in a survey among WPP Group agencies (via eMarketer) said they use their voice assistants on a weekly basis, compared with 31 percent of global respondents.

The disconnect between U.S. users and the rest of the world appears to rest on the differing levels of satisfaction with the experience of voice-activation.

The survey, conducted by J. Walter Thompson and its research arm, The Innovation Group, along with Mindshare Futures, 18 percent of international participants said they had used voice-activation  just once or twice, versus with 10 percent in the U.S.

The varying amount of usage between the U.S. and the rest of the globe may have to do with the varying amounts of “intelligence” between the main voice-activated assistants themselves.

While Apple has made long-awaited improvements in Siri, the current battle for the connected home is between Amazon and Google, as Apple’s Homepod smart speakers won’t be shipped until December.

In looking at the range of intelligence between the two dominant voice-activated platforms, a 360i study found that Google Home is six times “more effective” than Alexa.

“We can already see a consumer appetite for voice assistants to be able to understand them more fully — 60 percent of smartphone users agree that ‘if voice assistants could understand me properly and speak back to me as well as a human can, I’d use them all the time,” the WPP agencies say in their voice-activation report.

“People want the assistant to know their every preference and deliver an experience that caters to their every whim. As one of our respondents put it, ‘I’d like voice technology to understand me on the level that humans understand each other.’ Around a third (32 percent) of smartphone users are excited about a future where ‘my voice assistant will anticipate what I need and take actions or make suggestions.’”

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Amazon Alexa And OpenTable Will Show You To Your Table Now

Just as the pre-orders of the Amazon Echo Show have arrived at consumers’ homes, OpenTable has added a new Alexa skill within that screen version of the voice-activated Connected Intelligence device so users can get a look at the restaurant reservations they make.

Pre-orders for the $299 Echo Show began last month with, promising consumers “everything you love about” its voice-activated assistant, Alexa, along with the ability to watch video flash briefings and YouTube, see music lyrics, security cameras, photos, weather forecasts, to-do and shopping lists, and more.

Tell And Show

The influence of voice-activation and connected intelligence is already threatening to up-end traditional advertising and even calls into question the value of a website, as Birchbox CEO Katia Beauchamp has opined.

The rapid rise of Connected Intelligence and the digital voice assistants that provide direct answers to users’ search queries and requests also calls into the question how people will use the apps.

Instead of pressing buttons on a virtual box on a smartphone, apps will be ever-present in the background of users’ lives, ready act when a service is called upon or even anticipating what a consumer wants before they even ask for it.

Connected Reservations

That’s the world Priceline-owned OpenTable, which seats more than 22 million diners per month via online bookings across more than 42,000 restaurants, is preparing for.

“We’re thrilled to provide diners with an updated Alexa skill for the Echo Show to help diners book reservations at thousands of restaurants across the U.S.,” said Catherine Porter, OpenTable’s SVP of Strategy and Business Development. “With OpenTable’s Alexa skill, booking a restaurant reservation is as easy as saying ‘Alexa, ask OpenTable to make me a reservation’ at your favorite restaurant and you’ll be set.”

Considering that OpenTable’s parent, Priceline, is interested in ensuring that consumers book their travel plans with then, it’s also likely that the Alexa skills generated today will help boost usage for both entities.

As an example of how OpenTable might be able to connect Priceline to its users, the reservation platform is currently running a campaign showing how its users will “fly for food.”

According to the survey, two-thirds (66 percent) of Americans would select a travel destination based solely on its culinary offerings, while more than half (52 percent) have already traveled to the country of origin of their favorite cuisine.

“Americans are redefining their travel bucket lists not by where they want to go, but by what they want to eat,” said Caroline Potter,OpenTable’s chief dining officer. “While traveling, they’re also not afraid to experiment with local cuisine, and make more adventurous dining decisions.”

With that in mind, don’t be surprised if, someday soon, Alexa is asked to book a table and flight to a culinary hotspot at the very same time.

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Cannes Lions Recap: What Dominated The Conversations? Amazon, Of Course

The Cannes Lions advertising and media festival wrapped up this past weekend, between sipping rosé and boarding yachts, the top advertisers, agencies and ad platforms gathered to talk about creativity, new technologies and where the industry is heading.

(GeoMarketing’s Lauryn Chamberlain was there with coverage of J. Walter Thompson’s Elizabeth Cherian “Speak Easy” voice-activation report with MindshareHow Brands Can Have Authentic Conversations In ‘Smart Cities’ with Intersection’s Colin O’Donnell, as well as moderating a panel on How Marketers Can Integrate OOH, Social To Create Context — At Scale.)

Nels Stromborg, managing director of location-based shopping app, Retale,  was also in attendance, and he shared some of his observations about what drove most of the talk among the attendees he encountered.

Amazon, Amazon, Amazon

Amazon is dominating the conversation at Cannes. Their reach into the physical retail world shouldn’t be underestimated. They’re poised to redefine the way we shop and how we do business. As Oath’s Tim Armstrong said, we’re “now in an era of industries merging versus businesses merging.”

For Amazon, it has already been a huge win. Their stock added $15 billion in value the day after acquiring Whole Foods. They basically got the company for free. Expect more moves to come.

Ad Science And Art

“Stories first, data second.” This was a key theme at Cannes. Data is a great tool for optimizing campaigns, but advertisers need to focus first on building a relationship with consumers through compelling stories.

Then they need to look at how to employ data to refine their messages and drive maximum results. Data is a tool for enhancing storytelling, it can’t replace it.

Ad-Blocking Still a Concern

Ad-blocking is still a big topic because the problem is only going to get worse. A number of agency partners we spoke to were ready to sound the alarm. And they have a right to be concerned as adoption rises.

To address the issue, major platforms are considering limiting the number of impressions served for each ad. Gone are the days of 500 million impressions served with one or two pieces of creative.

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