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Alexa, what should we do?

July 15,2017
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An Amazon Echo Show on display in a living room. [AP/YONHAP]
The Black Friday in July is over with astonishing results. The record for one-day online sales has been broken, with more than 1 trillion won ($881 million) in sales revenue. American shopping website Amazon holds annual Prime Day sales in July. It is a sort of birthday celebration, and this year was the third Prime Day. From 9 pm EST on July 10, the Prime Day events continued for 30 hours. Unlike traditional sales that are scheduled for holiday weekends, Amazon Prime Day is on a weekday. This sale event sets a different standard in shopping.

If you look further into the event, it is quite frightening. It is uncertain whether people voluntarily shopped or Amazon made them buy. For 30 hours, Amazon posted a sale deal every five minutes. Amazon users checked their smartphones every five minutes even at work. CNBC reported that the Prime Day resulted in a production loss of $10 billion. Amazon is frightening not for the sales revenue for how it changes human behavior.

It is noteworthy that Amazon offered special deals on its own line of products. Amazon sold Alexa-installed Echo at 50 percent off. It was a bestseller. Alexa holds 70 percent of the AI speaker market and is changing daily lives in the United States. Children do homework with Alexa’s help. They would ask, “Alexa, what is the fourth industrial revolution?” Alexa can read recipes or play music. You can even ask Alexa to start the car. GE’s smart lamp and Dyson’s air purifier can be controlled by Alexa. At this rate, you may say before you die, “Alexa, arrange my funeral.”

This is happening in the United States now, but it is still relevant. In a connected society, the one who holds the platform takes all. It is like the distribution in manufacturing sector. Amazon’s long-term strategy has been offering deals to expand, dominate, then make profits. The online bookstore made brick-and-mortar bookstores go bankrupt, and now it has opened offline stores.

Amazon is already ahead of the game in competition. Korean AI assistants answer the question “What should I wear today?” with recommendations. But Alexa gives style tips considering the weather and your schedule, followed by product recommendations.

What prevents Amazon and Alexa’s invasion of Korea is the language. If Korea was in the English-speaking community, we would already be talking to Alexa. Considering how translation tools are being developed, the language barrier is not likely to last long. Thirteen countries, including China, participated in the sale. Naver, Gmarket and Coupang are more or less the same as Amazon. “Alexa, what should we do?”

JoongAng Ilbo, July 14, Page 30

*The author is a digital news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

KIM YOUNG-HOON