Amazon executives took the stage one by one yesterday to announce the company’s “next big leaps forward.” Many new Amazon products looked eerily familiar. The company has been criticized in the past for stealing popular product designs and selling them for a lower price.
Of course, this isn’t an uncommon practice; major retailers like Walmart and Costco have long offered lower-cost store-brand lines.
None of them, however, hold flashy keynotes to promote their products as “innovations.” While Amazon has in the past introduced some novel technologies to the world, this year’s “innovations” seemed to be more of the company doing what it does best: undercutting the competition.
Twinning with Fitbit in Halo View
Amazon is essentially adding a display to its existing screenless health-tracking band with the Halo View. However, the View’s shape and style are so similar to Fitbit’s Charge series that it’s difficult to tell them apart. There are only so many ways to put a rectangular display on a wristband, but Amazon’s emulation doesn’t end there. It also launched new Halo Fitness and Halo Nutrition services today, which will provide workout and nutrition advice.
Fitbit Premium, on the other hand, is a service that provides workout and nutrition advice. And Fitbit’s $10-per-month service also includes meditation and sleep advice. After a trial period, Amazon’s subscription costs just $4 per month, and the $80 Halo View is $100 less than the new Charge 5. The View is unlikely to perform as well as Fitbit’s sophisticated trackers. Despite the low price, Amazon is likely to sell a large number of them.
Amazon Smart Thermostat: Get rid of the frills for a fraction of the cost
Amazon collaborated with Honeywell to create a Smart Thermostat that works with most existing 24V HVAC systems (most common for residential HVAC systems). You can use an Alexa-enabled device to control it and create custom heating and cooling routines. The company hasn’t revealed much about its thermostat yet, but it appears to have the rounded-rectangle shape of an ecobee smart thermostat and the color scheme of a Google Nest device.
Many existing smart thermostats, such as ecobee, Sensibo, and Google’s Nest, offer more features, but Amazon’s version costs only $60, significantly less than the competition. The ecobee 3 Lite costs $170, while the Nest Thermostat, which was released last year, costs $130.
Blink cameras compete with Google for significantly lower prices
Since the security camera market is so competitive, it’s not surprising that Amazon and Google both borrow heavily from one another. Today, Amazon announced the $50 Blink video doorbell camera, as well as a set of outdoor cameras. The $40 floodlight camera mount, for example, is reminiscent of Google’s Nest Cam with integrated floodlight. To be fair, Google didn’t introduce a wireless, battery-powered doorbell camera until after Blink, so the borrowing appears to be reciprocal.
The difference is, once again, in the price. The video doorbell from Blink costs less than a third of the $180 Nest Doorbell. The floodlight/security camera from Google costs $280, while Amazon’s mount (with a camera) costs half as much at $140.
But at what price?
It’s no secret that Amazon’s business model is based on anticipating customer needs and adjusting prices accordingly. But how does it manage to keep things so low-cost? Aside from pure economies of scale and multiple reports of questionable (at best) labor practices, the company also offers discounted goods in exchange for the placement of advertisements on your devices. Ad-supported Kindles and Fire tablets are frequently $20 to $30 less expensive than their stock counterparts.
And with all of the information it collects about your shopping habits, whether on one of its devices or through the Amazon app, the company can afford to sell you something with a lower profit margin.
The company’s flagship product strategy appears to be similar to that of its Basics line: take a good idea, tweak it, and sell it for a lot less. It’s not bad; we could always use more affordable and dependable devices. Amazon, on the other hand, is the Costco of consumer technology.