Amazon Brings Alexa Smart Homes To Life In New 'Experience Centers'

In yet another move that shows how serious it is about moving into real-life customer experiences, Amazon is opening “Experience Centers” in cities across the U.S., in a partnership with home builder Lennar Ventures.

These Alexa-enabled smart homes offer demonstrations of what life inside an all-Alexa home can be like, with Amazon’s voice-activated assistant controlling thermostats, lights and blinds, using Amazon Home Services to let grocery deliveries in, and ordering supplies through the Amazon Dash Button. It says the demonstration homes are now open in such cities as Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington D.C., and that more are scheduled to open soon.

Lennar, which had previously worked with Apple on its smart-home offerings, announced it was building Alexa technology into new homes last year, installing Echo microphones throughout. (Built-in listening devices in everywhere sound creepy to you? Yeah, you’re not alone. Wired recently showed how easy it is to turn Echo into an eavesdropping device.)



“We wanted customers to experience a real home environment that showcases the convenience of the Alexa smart home experience, great entertainment available with Prime, and Home Services,” says Nish Lathia, general manager, Amazon Services, in its announcement. “As one of the nation’s largest homebuilders, Lennar offers the potential to enable this experience within easy driving distance of millions of customers.”

It’s just the latest in Amazon’s efforts to acquaint more people with its products in physical locations, including bookstores and experimental grocery formats, some in concert with its Whole Foods division. Last month, it announced a deal with Best Buy, selling smart TVs enabled with Amazon’s Fire.

And while observers worry that such partnerships will put the brick-and-mortar partners at an even bigger disadvantage, the reverse may be true: New research from Gordon Haskett shows it seems to be paying off for Kohls, “overwhelmingly accomplishing the goal of driving incremental traffic.” Using geolocation analysis, the research company finds that stores visits to the stores with the Amazon store-within-a-store offering are up 8.5.% more than those without, and are bringing in a higher proportion of new customers. 

It also finds that the average amount of time spent inside the store remains the same. “Those returning Amazon items seem to be shopping the Kohl’s store,” the report says, “which is the ultimate goal of the test pilot.”

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