Echo Show, Amazon has given its voice-enabled Echo speaker a touch
screen and video-calling capabilities as it competes with Google’s
efforts at bringing “smarts” to the home. (Amazon via AP, File)
New York (AP) - In the name
of convenience, Amazon and Wal-Mart are pushing people to shop by just
talking to a digital assistant.
Shopping by voice means giving
orders to the Alexa assistant on Amazon’s Echo speaker and other
devices, even if your hands are tied up with dinner or dirty diapers.
And next month, Wal-Mart will start offering voice shopping, too, with
the Google Assistant on the rival Home speaker.
Voice shopping is still new. But
once you start using it, look out - you might never know if it’s
offering you the best deal. Because these devices can’t say much without
tiring your ears, voice shopping precludes some of the savvy shopping
practices you may have relied on to find the best bargains - in
particular, researching products and comparing prices.
You’d be leaving much of the buying
decision to Amazon, Wal-Mart or other retailers.
Amazon has had more than a year’s
head start, and dominates voice shopping. Google introduced shopping to
Home in February, letting people order essentials from more than 40
retailers like Target and Costco under its Google Express program. Its
partnership with Wal-Mart means hundreds of thousands of items will be
available to customers in late September.
With websites and apps, many
customers place items in the cart, but change their minds before
completing the order, said Lauren Beitelspacher, a marketing professor
at Babson College in Massachusetts. Voice shopping eliminates those
And with Amazon so far ahead, voice
shopping with Alexa is another way of getting you hooked on Amazon.
Although Amazon allows some third-party ordering through Alexa,
including pizza from Domino’s and hotels through Kayak, general shopping
is limited to Amazon’s own store. If Alexa orders diapers for you just
as you run out, for instance, Amazon locks in the order before you have
a chance to visit Wal-Mart.
“You can’t get away from Amazon,”
Beitelspacher said. “I don’t know if gimmick is the right word, but
(voice shopping) is part of a strategy to be omnipresent in consumers’
Ask Alexa to buy something, and it
presents you with something you’ve bought before or an educated guess
based on some undisclosed mix of price, satisfaction rating and shipping
time. Amazon won’t provide more details. You can get a product’s average
customer-satisfaction rating, but not specific reviews, even on
screen-equipped Echo Show devices.
Brian Elliott, general manager of
Google Express, says that with most affiliated retailers,
personalization occurs as the assistant learns shoppers’ preferences,
but the integration with Wal-Mart will happen more quickly.
In some ways, shopping by voice
assistant is a throwback to the days when you were largely limited to
what sales representatives recommended at a physical store.
Amazon’s website gives you a lot of
information about most products, from color options and sizes to the
specific reasons other customers hated a product you’re considering.
You’re able to compare similar items and choose something cheaper if
you’re willing to sacrifice some features or take a chance on an unknown
And, of course, you can also
compare Amazon’s prices with those of other online merchants.
But with Amazon’s voice shopping,
it’s back to what the company’s representative recommends.
Voice shopping requires membership
in Amazon’s $99-a-year Prime loyalty program, and it works with most of
the tens of millions of items eligible for free shipping. But someone
browsing on the web might find deals in non-Prime items; Alexa won’t let
you buy them.
In addition, Alexa’s interactions
with shoppers are constrained by the fact that listening and speaking
can be a lot slower than reading and clicking.
And while Amazon’s website won’t
necessarily list the cheapest option first either, the alternatives are
easier to view on a screen.
Justin Evans, an engineer in
Whitman, Massachusetts, bought oatmeal and smart plugs using Alexa to
claim exclusive discounts, but he prefers browsing and reviewing
products for general shopping. “I’m a less impulsive shopper than I
think their target market is,” he said.
Companies are aware that voice
shopping takes getting used to. “It’s not natural to shout out a
purchase desire and have it be fulfilled,” said Ryne Misso of the Market
Track retail research firm in Chicago.
Jenny Blackburn, Amazon’s director
of voice shopping, believes it will catch on once people get used to it.
To get people started, Amazon has
been offering exclusive deals through Alexa and a $10 credit on the
first order. For its annual Prime Day promotion in July, Amazon gave
voice shoppers a head start of two hours.
Amazon says voice shopping has
grown in the year-plus it’s had it, though it wouldn’t release figures.
“We’re really just getting started with it,” Blackburn said in an
Blackburn said voice shopping works
best for products with “lightweight decisions,” such as batteries, cat
food and paper towels. Sure, Alexa can order you a TV, but you’ll
probably want to do some research first.
Nels Romerdahl, a student at the
University of Hawaii in Maui, said Alexa can be a big improvement over
Amazon Dash buttons - plastic gadgets that can you place around the
house and press anytime you need to reorder a specific item. But he
doesn’t use either Alexa or Dash for recurring items - he stocks up when
his parents visit Costco every few weeks.
To prevent inadvertent orders, like
the widely circulated report from a local television station of a
6-year-old girl who had Alexa order a dollhouse and sugar cookies for
Christmas, Amazon lets you set up a PIN you can recite to the assistant.
Amazon disputes the report, saying someone would have had to say “yes”
before the order went through.
To boost comfort, Amazon promises
free returns on voice orders; normally, Amazon charges a shipping fee
for returns unless the company’s at fault.
That might not satisfy everyone.
Los Angeles attorney Pam Meyer, who bought some dog treats through Alexa
to claim her $10 credit, said she’d want something like a cash-back
guarantee when Alexa doesn’t offer the best price.
June. 21, 2011, file photo, former U.S. CIA Operations Officer, Valerie
Plame Wilson arrives for the UK film premiere of Countdown to Zero in
London. Wilson launched an online fundraiser on Aug. 18, 2017, looking
to raise enough money to buy Twitter so President Donald Trump can’t use
it. (AP Photo/Jonathan Short, File)
Washington (AP) - Former
undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson is looking to crowdfund enough
money to buy Twitter so President Donald Trump can’t use it.
Wilson launched the fundraiser last
week, tweeting: “If @Twitter executives won’t shut down Trump’s violence
and hate, then it’s up to us. #BuyTwitter #BanTrump.” The GoFundMe page
for the fundraiser says Trump’s tweets “damage the country and put
people in harm’s way.”
As of Wednesday morning, she had
raised less than $6,000 of her $1 billion goal.
In an emailed statement, White
House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the low total shows
that the American people like the Republican president’s use of Twitter.
“Her ridiculous attempt to shut
down his first amendment is the only clear violation and expression of
hate and intolerance in this equation,” the statement read.
Wilson wrote on the fundraiser’s
GoFundMe page that she hopes to raise enough money to buy a controlling
interest of Twitter stock. If she doesn’t have enough to purchase a
majority of shares, she said, she will explore options to buy “a
significant stake” and champion the proposal at Twitter’s annual
If Plame were to hit her $1 billion
goal, she’d still fall far short of gaining a controlling interest in
the company. As of Wednesday, a majority stake would cost roughly $6
billion. But a $1 billion stake would make her Twitter’s largest
shareholder and give her a very strong position to exert influence on
Twitter declined to comment
Wednesday on Wilson’s tweet about seeking to buy the San Francisco-based
Wilson’s identity as a CIA
operative was leaked by an official in President George W. Bush’s
administration in 2003 in an effort to discredit her husband, Joe
Wilson, a former diplomat who criticized Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.
She left the agency in 2005.
(AP) - One of the world’s fastest
supercomputers is helping scientists better understand the sun’s
behavior and predict weather months in advance but also got touted
Tuesday as an important tool for diversifying Wyoming’s economy, which
has seen better days.
supercomputer named Cheyenne, located at a National Center for
Atmospheric Research facility on the outskirts of Wyoming’s capital
city, is the world’s 22nd fastest. Put to work earlier this year,
Cheyenne is three times faster yet three times more efficient than its
predecessor, a machine called Yellowstone.
Supercomputing Center housing both machines is an important tool for
recruiting tech businesses and keeping students interested in computers
from leaving Wyoming to seek their fortunes elsewhere, Gov. Matt Mead
said at a dedication for the new machine Tuesday.
The facility also
is an important tool for research into hydrology, ways to trap carbon
dioxide emitted by coal-fired power plants and other science important
to Wyoming, he said.
“What it shows in
Wyoming is that we’re not only trying to broaden and diversify the
economy, we care about the results,” Mead said.
about 40 percent of the nation’s coal. In 2016, the U.S. coal industry
had its worst year in four decades amid competition from cheaper and
cleaner-burning natural gas as utilities’ preferred fuel for generating
electricity. Meanwhile, renewables such as wind and solar are
The coal downturn
has hit Wyoming’s economy hard. But the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing
Center completed five years ago has helped attract other types of
business including a Microsoft data center just across the street, Mead
“For me, when we
think about the economic benefits, they’re tremendous. When we think
about the pride in Wyoming citizens, it’s tremendous,” Mead said.
Early work on the
new supercomputer includes modeling of space weather - flares ejected by
the sun that can affect satellites, communications and even the power
grid. Scientists using the machine also are developing ways to better
predict weather up to three months out, said University Corporation for
Atmospheric Research President Antonio Busalacchi.
“This timescale is
critical for businesses, agriculture and for our military, who need
reliable forecasts of longer-term weather forecasts,” Busalacchi said.
Yellowstone will operate side-by-side until the National Center for
Atmospheric Research retires Yellowstone later this year.
The Associated Press
App Store Official Charts for the week
ending August 6, 2017:
Top Paid iPhone Apps:
1. Minecraft: Pocket Edition, Mojang
2. Heads Up!, Warner Bros.
3. The Escapists, Team17 Software Ltd
4. Plague Inc., Ndemic Creations
5. Bloons TD 5, Ninja Kiwi
6. Facetune, Lightricks Ltd.
7. MONOPOLY Game, Electronic Arts
8. iSchedule, HotSchedules
9. True Skate, True Axis
10. Scribblenauts Remix, Warner Bros.
Top Free iPhone Apps:
1. Sarahah, ZainAlabdin Tawfiq
2. YouTube - Watch Videos, Music,...,
3. Instagram, Instagram, Inc.
4. Snapchat, Snap, Inc.
5. Messenger, Facebook, Inc.
6. Facebook, Facebook, Inc.
7. Bitmoji - Your Personal Emoji,
8. Google Maps - Navigation & Tra...,
9. Snake VS Block, Voodoo
10. Netflix, Netflix, Inc.
Top Paid iPad Apps:
1. Minecraft: Pocket Edition, Mojang
2. The Escapists, Team17 Software Ltd
3. Notability, Ginger Labs
4. Procreate - Sketch, paint, cre...,
Savage Interactive Pty Ltd
5. The Emoji Movie Maker, AppMoji, Inc.
6. Terraria, 505 Games (US), Inc.
7. Geometry Dash, RobTop Games AB
8. Scribblenauts Remix, Warner Bros.
9. Minecraft: Story Mode - Season...,
10. Five Nights at Freddy’s, Scott
Top Free iPad Apps:
1. YouTube - Watch Videos, Music,...,
2. Netflix, Netflix, Inc.
3. Strawberry Shortcake Ice Cream,
4. Flippy Knife, Oleg Beresnev
5. Bowmasters - Top Multiplayer B...,
6. ROBLOX, Roblox Corporation
7. Snake VS Block, Voodoo
8. Gymnastics Superstar - Get a P...,
9. Messenger, Facebook, Inc.
10. Facebook, Facebook, Inc.