Forget the living room: Amazon is fighting for your whole damn house
Some of the world's largest technology companies are eyeing your entertainment center. Google has its Google TV platform and has dabbled in its own hardware, albeit with disastrous results. Apple can't organize an event or conduct a conference call without being harangued about when it will make the Apple TV more than a "hobby." Microsoft has used the Xbox platform to leapfrog its competitors and create the first smart television worth purchasing. These companies' products already pervade our offices, backpacks, and pockets -- now they want to become a fixture of the living room as well.
Amazon is thinking a little bigger. It isn't just fighting to make its way into the living room. It's trying to insert itself into every aspect of your daily life. And it might be closer to doing so than anyone realizes. Let's take a tour through your home and see how Amazon is trying to monetize each room.
The living room. Amazon has a few products and services meant to increase its presence in the living room, even if it isn't the sole focus of its recent efforts. There's Prime Instant Video, which is available on many smart television sets, videogame consoles, and set-top boxes, and which Amazon has bundled with its core service, Amazon Prime. The service has begun to produce original content (most of which is horrible) and add an increasing number of movies and television shows through partnerships with some of the world's largest entertainment companies.
Amazon has reportedly developed its own set-top box as well. Video might soon emulate Amazon's approach to ebooks, which was to embrace many, sometimes competitive platforms while simultaneously producing low-cost hardware. "They see the same handwriting on the wall that Apple put up there a few years ago," Gartner analyst Mike McGuire told the Verge in April. "If you're going to do an ecosystem, you need to have an anchor in the living room. We've seen Apple be very coy about Apple TV, but that box — as a thing that gets you onto a bigger screen, with all this content we have in various places on various devices — is going to be hugely important."
And then, of course, there's Amazon's sleeper hit: IMDb. When was the last time you watched a movie or television show and didn't think of something you might want to know about the video or its actors? My fiancée and I use IMDb almost every time we watch something -- usually through an Apple TV and Netflix or Hulu -- and I can't imagine that the other 50 million people who have downloaded the service's mobile applications are much different. Even if you have no intention of using Prime Instant Video, straight-out purchasing a video on Amazon, or buying an Amazon-built set-top box, you're probably going to be using IMDb.
The kitchen. Reuters reports that Amazon is planning on expanding its AmazonLocal service, which currently allows customers to purchase groceries in the Seattle area, to around 40 markets in 2014. The company is said to be building new warehouses with refrigerated areas for the perishable goods -- and space for other, less-alive inventory -- in order to make the service viable on the typical Amazon scale.
Many of these warehouses would probably have been built anyway, as Amazon is said to be expanding its physical presence across the US. The company used to have distribution centers and warehouses in a few states so it could avoid charging its customers sales tax. Now, with the Marketplace Fairness Act -- which would force Amazon and other online retailers to collect sales tax even if they don't have a physical presence in a state -- making its way through the Senate, Amazon is said to be building more and more warehouses and distribution centers to decrease its already-short shipping time.
These two initiatives could allow Amazon to topple (or at least maim) traditional retail. “Retail guys are going to go out of business and ecommerce will become the place everyone buys. You are not going to have a choice,” Marc Andreessen told PandoDaily in January. “We’re still pre-death of retail, and we’re already seeing a huge wave of growth. The best in class are going to get better and better. We view this as a long term opportunity.” If Amazon will sell you the same groceries as Walmart and deliver them straight to your doorstep the same day you order them, why make the trip to the labyrinthine monument to capitalism at all?
The bathroom. Amazon acquired Quidsi, which operates Diapers.com and Soap.com among other properties, in 2010. The services do about what you'd think -- they weren't named after the products they don't sell -- and allow Amazon to indirectly make its way into your bathroom. Want diapers? Soap? Other household items (which brings us back to the kitchen and the living room, in some ways)? Amazon can help you buy all of 'em.
The company also offers subscription-based purchases. You could, say, tell Amazon to ship you a box of toilet paper, a few things of shampoo, and some diapers every few weeks. This isn't the most perfect solution at the moment, given that the rate at which you use toilet paper or your child outgrows his diapers can be hard to predict, but it is convenient. And, again, if Amazon is able to introduce same-day delivery, that too could become less of a problem.
The bedroom. First, a clarification: When I say "the bedroom" I really mean "the closet." I would rather not think about the ways Amazon could be used to, erm, facilitate the activities typically reserved for the bedroom (and I'm not entirely sure Jeff Bezos is the person you want to picture while engaging in those activities).
Amazon's foray into fashion is a point of contention in the (virtual) PandoDaily office. Sarah Lacy has argued that Amazon's attempts to enter your closet are "confused" and that the company "tries to please too many women." Kevin Kelleher wrote that Amazon will treat fashion the same way it has treated every other category in which it operates: Doggedly, with every intention of plodding along until it finally gets something right. I don't know that either are correct -- trying to predict what Amazon is going to do or how well it will do it is a fool's game -- but it's clear that Amazon is intent on taking over your closet.
The laundry room. Alright, Amazon doesn't have a clear "in" to this room yet, but it isn't hard to imagine how it might create one. Maybe it will be through a dedicated laundry-related offering. Maybe it'll be through Jeff Bezos curling up in your dryer and letting you know when it's time to change your lint trap. Bezos finds a way.
[Giant Jeff Bezos Illustration by Hallie Bateman]