You Can Buy from Amazon by Camera or Microphone Today - Modern Distribution Management

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You Can Buy from Amazon by Camera or Microphone Today

Distributors have not developed the AI expertise to compete with Amazon yet

Amazon currently has about 13,000 job openings, of which 98 percent are full-time positions. Only about 230 are warehouse positions; the majority are in machine learning, artificial intelligence, software development, high tech research, engineering, IT, hardware and similar disciplines. The company has not only grown at a ferocious rate historically, it is also investing in future growth as well.

Amazon’s number of current job openings is much larger than the vast majority of distributors’ entire employee count. Of course, Amazon is in many industries besides B2B distribution, but the number of open positions reveals the breathtaking scale of the company’s ambitions.

The profile of Amazon’s open positions also explains how it differentiates its value proposition vs. traditional distribution companies. Distributors primarily serve customers through people; Amazon primarily serves customers through technology.

In one of the job descriptions, Amazon says, “Our vision is that Alexa will be the world's most knowledgeable product expert who knows you, in a store that sells everything. All those moments when we need or want to know more about the products we use every day, will have instant satisfaction of an answer: just ask Alexa. We are building a digital product expert that is always available, with super-human knowledge of every product ever made.”

This is not just about selling to consumers; you can order “Alexa for Business” today – a package of seven Echo devices you can place around your office and voice order office supplies or schedule conference calls.

To sample this artificial intelligence, you need go no further than your mobile phone. If you download the Amazon app on an iPhone or Android device, you’ll see camera and microphone icons in the top right. Click on the camera and take a picture of a commonly-sold item in your office and the app will use Amazon’s back end AI to identify the product and take you to a page where you can order it from them.

Or you can click the microphone icon and say, “motor starter,” which will almost instantly bring up thousands of choices you can buy, right now, on Amazon. This supports a statement in another current Amazon job description: “Our goal is to deliver unparalleled convenience – we believe the best shopping experience for most everyday items is one where a customer doesn’t have to shop at all.”

It’s easy to imagine where this is going. Someday, maintenance professionals will simply take pictures or describe by voice the products they need and technology built into hard hats connected to Amazon’s artificial intelligence will do the rest. Office employees will say, “Alexa, order more toner for the Ricoh copier.” Auto mechanics will order parts by voice or camera while working on cars and trucks. Amazon’s shopping experience will be built into the daily jobs and workflows of employees everywhere.

It’s Amazon’s unique set of capabilities – a logistics powerhouse, marketplace and best-in-the-world artificial intelligence expertise – that enables this new form of commerce. The retail sector has already experienced this repeatedly. The wholesale distribution sector can’t fight Amazon in its core areas of expertise simply because distributors have not developed the artificial intelligence expertise – yet.

There are strategies to fight back, as we’ve outlined in Your Amazon Playbook: A Strategic Evaluation for Distributors. Great sales and customer service people still make a huge difference to many customers in many situations. Distributors will leverage technologies that Amazon wields first through third parties. Great distributors will figure out how to leverage their current assets while investing in new capabilities as quickly as they can.

The leadership imperative is to understand what Amazon and other digital players plan to do; then develop a strategy to respond now and in the future. At MDM, we will work hard to provide thought leadership for the industry – not because we believe Amazon is bad, but because where they focus they are so good, and are impacting the competitive landscape of every wholesale distribution sector in some way.

Please send us your thoughts and input – for publication or background. We take our responsibility to keep the distribution industry up-to-speed on Amazon Business very seriously. And be sure to test the Amazon technology – you can’t build a solid strategy without a good understanding of what’s in your customers’ minds and pockets.

Feel free to contact me at

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