Amazon launches a virtual showroom for home furnishing
Just over a year ago Amazon launched its first in-home furniture brands with private labels Rivet and Stone & Beam, and in November we reported that it had begun experimenting with a new, more visual way to shop for furniture and other merchandise with its Pinterest-like recommendation service, Scout. Now, Amazon is venturing further into home furnishings with the debut of Amazon Showroom, a visual design tool that allows you to place furniture into a virtual living room, customize the décor, then shop the look. You can access it from the “Accounts & Lists” drop-down on the web; the Home, Garden & Pets department on the web; or the Home & Kitchen department on the mobile app. Whilst not available in the UK yet, there is a country drop-down selector in the microsite which includes the UK, among other international domains.
Currently, the new feature is focused on helping Amazon shoppers put together a living room. In a virtual setting, you can make adjustments to the wall colour and the flooring, then swap out each item in the space with one of your own choosing, including the sofa, coffee table, chair, end table, lamp, rug and even the art on the wall. Not surprisingly, Amazon’s own home furnishing brands are heavily featured.
Home furnishings is still an emerging category for online retail, not only because they’re hard to visualize, but also because heavy items are expensive to ship. However, major retailers see the potential in this growing market.
Whole Foods US expansion
Amazon is expanding its network of Whole Foods stores, particularly in areas where the company is growing its customer base. Since it acquired the struggling specialty grocer back in mid-2017, Amazon has put it back on the path to growth. Now they have plans to open a bevy of locations in US states where Whole Foods currently doesn't have a presence, including Idaho, Wyoming, Southern Utah, and more suburban areas in major cities.
These additional stores will serve a number of purposes for Amazon. Soon after it purchased the grocer, Amazon opened pop-up kiosks inside a number of Whole Foods stores where specially trained staff promoted Amazon devices. The new store will put more customers within range of their two-hour delivery service and extend the number of lockers from which customers can pick up Amazon orders at their convenience.
NFL launches voice-powered football guide for Alexa
The National Football League (NFL) has launched voice-recognition content for Amazon's virtual assistant Alexa that will teach fans about players, rules and the history of American football. "The Rookie's Guide to the NFL" will allow users to ask Alexa-enabled devices questions about the sport. The Alexa skill is available for free in all of Alexa's English language regions. It can tell users about the technicalities of the game and define more than 1,000 NFL terms, rules and jargon such as "encroachment" and "snap count." The guide also has content to help fans prepare for the Super Bowl, weekly playoff previews from Super Bowl winner Osi Umenyiora, and bios of every active NFL team.
This innovation by the NFL shows how sports brands and their sponsors can use voice recognition to reach fans in the home and enhance the viewing experience. This idea could be easily transferred to other international sports like football, rugby and tennis.
iMax cinema partnership in the UK
Amazon is in talks to release its original films in iMax cinemas, potentially as early as Q1 this year. They have approached a number of cinema operators and distributors for the theatrical releases of upcoming films it has financed and developed, including The Aeronauts, starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, which is scheduled for release in November 2019. Although this would be the first time Amazon will have worked with iMax cinemas, it's not their first partnership with UK cinemas. They have released nine films, including Wonderstruck and The Wall, which it financed and developed for UK cinemas.
Amazon moving more of its films into physical cinemas is likely to fuel speculation that the company is still considering buying its own cinema chain. Last August, we reported that they were in the running to buy Landmark Theatres - this acquisition fell through.
Lower referral fees on amazon.com
Amazon is lowering fulfillment fees for 3P sellers in certain categories for items priced under a certain threshold. The categories that have most to gain are beauty, health and personal care which will see a fee reduction from 15% to 8% for items with a sale value of $10 or less. The grocery and gourmet category will also see a similar reduction. Amazon also announced the minimum fee will also decrease across 30 other categories.
Amazon will hope this change will attract new sellers and encourage existing sellers to list more products, allowing them to provide more selection to consumers, thus making Amazon a more attractive retail destination for consumers as they look to steal more share from traditional retailers.
It's not clear yet when these reductions will take effect in the US and whether they will be replicated in other Amazon markets.
Alexa sales estimate released
After years of dodging the question, Amazon has finally indicated how many Alexa enabled devices have been sold. A senior official at Amazon revealed that more than 100 million devices with Alexa built into them have been sold since launch. The figure includes sales from the 150 devices (e.g. Sonos One speaker, LG c35 smartphone) that are not made by Amazon but are partner devices that have Alexa built into them.
This estimate is higher than expected and confirms the leadership position Amazon holds in the voice-enabled technology market.