The battle for the home personal assistant is in full force. Amazon came out of left field with the release of Echo and the Alexa assistant over two years ago. Since then, everyone from Google to Samsung to Apple to Microsoft has been scrambling to come up with their digital assistant or in-home connected speaker. Each has their own strengths based on their originators background. For the Echo, the core is about commerce. It is what Amazon is best at and while there is content from Amazon Music, it is really about enabling more purchases on Amazon Prime.
Google, on the other hand, comes from a pedigree of search and ads. Without a display, getting ads into the mix of Google Home will be a tricky topic. We’ve already seen the feedback from when Beauty and the Beast was coming to theaters. Commerce isn’t really a strong suit of Google’s, but it’s not stopping them from trying to monetize the in-home device.
For me and my wife, the best feature of Google Home is the ability to manage our shopping list. We (and the kids) would add items to a shared Google Keep list and it really became a part of our weekly routine. Well, that’s about to change. This week Google unexpectedly changed how shopping lists are managed with Google Home and shifted the lists out of Google Keep and into Google Express, Google’s commerce tool. Needless to say…I, and many others, are not happy. It’s not so much that Google wants to push Google Express on me. I just think they did it in the wrong way.
First, just over a month ago, Google added commerce capabilities to Google Home. Using Google payment options, you could enable shopping to Costco and Target. While I set up my payment options, I never actually went through the exercise to set up products to be purchased, or re-supplied, through one or several of the partner companies. Regardless, the feature of commerce existed.
Second, the collaboration of adding and managing our shopping list, a weekly routine for us, has now been disrupted. We can no longer manage the list easily. Google Express is a website for me to log into, and I have to go through what seems like more steps to even see my list by going through the Google Home app, into a slide out menu, to my shopping list, to then fire up a browser. WHAT?! Before it was as simple as open Google Keep, tap on my shopping list, which was my first list. Easy. So the user experience got worse…big time.
Third, how this was all communicated was horrible. No transition period. No, ‘hey, we are looking to change the experience and here’s why this benefits you.’ None of that. Just switched this week without warning. Poor customer experience.
Finally, I think Google is trying too hard to be like Amazon. I know they think they need commerce to make this tool profitable for them because they know putting ads into Home will really piss people off. And they are right. However, I will say, I went with a Google Home over an Amazon Echo because shopping wasn’t the primary driver for me. My primary driver was the Google ecosystem that my life was already committed to.
Google needs to play to its strengths on this one. Be different. Don’t try to copy everything Amazon does. In fact, it is going to screw up the product if you do. Play to your search pedigree. Play to your strong ecosystem of mail, calendar, reminders, mobile, and more. I’m happy to have Google Express integrated. I’m happy to shop through it even though I have Amazon Prime. Frankly, I just don’t shop that way with Amazon. I’m not sure I will with Google Express either. Shopping is not the reason I bought a Google Home. Ron Amadeo says it best from Ars Technica Op-Ed…they are ruining a good product to push a inferior service.