How Amazon Is Quietly Taking Over Your Living Room

From Sony vs. Microsoft, to Roku vs. Apple TV, to LG’s webOS vs. Android TV, there’s always some battle being waged to rule the TV and stereo in the room where families spend the brunt of their time. Well, Amazon is quietly working to beat everyone — and it’s okay if you didn’t notice. Most folks haven’t.

Obviously, Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant is already one of the biggest players in the digital assistant game, with an install base of millions and a sales trend expected to put the system at a mind-boggling 500 million global users by 2020. But in addition to controlling your light switches, playing Bluetooth audio and reminding you of the day’s date on occasion, Amazon has been adding “skills” to the system by the armload every week, and it now offers more than 10,000, ranging from smart home add-ons to flash news briefings.

Another area that’s been on the rise as of late? Television.

You know the first part of the equation. The company’s Trojan horse has been the wildly successful Fire TV Stick (currently the No. 1 selling Electronics item on Amazon) and the Amazon Fire TV (which comes with a few extra features, including 4K video), both of which are basically Amazon’s beachhead against products like the Roku and Apple TV in your entertainment center. Amazon has sold millions of them, and the past several editions have included a killer feature that’s popping up in more and more devices these days. You guessed it: Alexa. The voice command button takes up a piece of prime real estate on the remote control, and cuts out the middle man when it comes to menus and searching. It’s a handy feature that sets Amazon’s line apart, and a brilliant (if not obvious) way to leverage all the time and energy the company has put into Alexa. Amazon is already a key player in the set-top box market, and they’ve been weaving Alexa into its DNA for years — and now it’s time for the next phase to begin.

Amazon has started cutting deals with TV manufacturers and satellite companies to make Alexa the easiest way to control your television — no remote control, or Fire stick, required. Sony recently announced some of its 4K TV lines would be adding Alexa functionality, while Westinghouse is also adding Alexa to its features list. Looking beyond the out-of-the-box experience, Amazon has also worked with Dish Network to add Alexa functionality to its higher-end satellite receivers, which allows the system to change channels, retrieve recorded content, and pause with nothing more than a few words. I tested the Dish skill myself, and there’s something freeing and truly geeky about being able to tune to ESPN, or pause the TV for a beer run, without fishing the remote out from between the couch cushions. Just say it, and it’s done. It also worked surprisingly well and fast, with straightforward commands that were just as snappy as manually pushing the button.

Putting Alexa into Amazon’s own streaming box is one thing, but now those skills are getting baked into devices and tech that make them more and more useful for all the Echos and Echo Dots already littering end tables and desks all over the world. Amazon is adding skills to Alexa on a daily basis, and with that tech showing up in a first wave of living room devices, Amazon continues to build its living room lead on Google and Apple’s AI offerings. If you’re trying to decide between an Apple HomePod, Echo or Google Home, learning your brand new TV — or the satellite or cable service you’re locked into a contract on — works with Alexa could easily be the deciding factor when it comes to platform choice. And Amazon knows it. More TV manufacturers will almost certainly join Sony and Westinghouse, and it stands to reason other cable and satellite providers won’t let Dish hold onto this advantage when the next iteration of their set-top boxes start rolling out.

Amazon is on the verge of changing the way we watch TV, and the “trick” has been to just put Alexa into everything and make it work well. Or at least well enough. Make it so convenient that you just use it because it’s always there — and at that point — why would anyone look to a competitor when they already have the feature set built-in, no add-ons required? If your satellite service, TV and streaming box all just work with the Echos already in your house, would you ever seriously consider a different platform? Not likely.

Amazon is winning the battle for the living room by making its ecosystem so wide-ranging and accessible that you might not even realize you have it. The company is already a leader for smart home early adopters thanks to the low buy-in cost (Dots can typically be snagged for between $30-40 when a sale is on) and expansive feature set, and if you’re already using Alexa to turn the lights on, isn’t the next step just firing up the TV and turning on some Fixer Upper?

Best Buy Now Lets You Rent and Try Gadgets Before You Buy Them From Amazon

As the mortar of brick and mortar businesses slowly crumbles, retailers are scrambling to come up with a reason why you should use them instead of companies like Amazon and… well, pretty much just Amazon. Best Buy’s solution? Be more like Blockbuster Video.

Best Buy has managed to do just fine in the current marketplace, and its stock price has increased by 67 percent over the last two years. But part of the reason for that is the loss of brick and mortar competition. But that won’t last forever.

Amazon has been systematically dismantling IRL bookstore chains, and now that its victory is clear, it’s opening its own retail stores. With its announcement of try-before-you-buy rentals, it might have a service that Amazon doesn’t. The question is, will anyone really want it?

The rental system won’t be a direct interaction with Best Buy. Customers will see a rental button beside items on BestBuy.com, and if they click it, they’ll be sent to Lumoid’s website to complete the rental. The referral from the Best Buy website gets you 20 percent of the rental price back in Lumoid credit that could count towards the purchase. The partnership between the two companies allows Best Buy to put its open box items to better use. Of course, if you’re thinking of purchasing an open box item, from now on you should consider that it might be very used.

Will this be appealing to most customers? It seems like it would only be necessary with certain newer items like VR headsets and drones. Speaking of which, drones won’t be available. How about cameras? Some users might want to make hands-on comparisons. But of course, there are plenty of consumer tech publications that help you zero in on what you want. And let’s not forget the old school try-before-you-buy system: make the purchase and return it if you don’t like it. Presumably, Best Buy would rather you not do that.

Honestly, for a lot of high-end items, you shouldn’t buy it used from a retailer. Say you want some audio equipment—find a pro or hobbyist who’s selling and cares about their gear. Older generations probably remember renting that busted Virtual Boy from Blockbuster and being turned off for good.

But maybe this will turn out to be a valued service. If so, all we know is that Amazon will be ready to do it and it’ll probably somehow be included with Prime.

Amazon Reportedly Exploring Purchase Of BJ’s Wholesale

After decades of being the face of online-only retail, Amazon is increasingly inching into the bricks-and-mortar world: pop-up stores; planned supermarkets without checkouts; a reported interest in buying Whole Foods — and now the possible acquisition of BJ’s Wholesale Club.

The New York Post, citing sources close to the matter, reports that Amazon has expressed modest interest in the Northeast-regional warehouse chain.

The membership retailer, similar to Sam’s Club and Costco, is currently owned by private equity firms Leonard Green & Partners and CVC Capital Partners, which are looking to sell the brand for as much as $4 billion, according to sources.

BJ’s Warehouse recently ditched plans for a initial public offering and began talking to bankers about a sale process, sources said, adding that while other buyout firms are likely to pursue a deal, Amazon is also evaluating the merits of purchasing the chain.

If it decides to seek a deal for BJ’s, Amazon would be making its biggest bricks-and-mortar push to date, as BJ’s operates 213 stores and 130 gas stations in 15 states.

Amazon, which is prepping to open its first checkoutless, cashier-free convenience store in Seattle, has long been rumored to be joining the physical store game, mainly focusing on grocery stores.

Last October, reports surfaced that the company would eventually open as 2,000 grocery stores over the next two years. A purchase of BJ’s could expedite that process.

In addition to providing another avenue for Amazon to sell groceries, electronics, and bulk products, a deal to buy BJ’s would give Amazon a foothold in appliance, furniture, and auto parts sales, the sources tell the NY Post.

Additionally, the sources says BJ’s stores would provide Amazon more space to expand its Amazon Fresh delivery service, which provides subscribers with delivery of fresh produce.

A rep for BJ’s tells the NY Post that it does not comment on rumors and speculation. Amazon did not provide comment on the rumors to the NY Post.

Amazon Will Dominate 50% of All United States eCommerce by 2021

As Fortune reports, Amazon is currently on its way to becoming the source of 50% of all United States eCommerce sales. The online retail giant is expected to hit the 50% mark by 2021, largely due to the success of the Prime membership service and the Marketplace program. “Amazon is still outpacing the overall industry’s growth, extending its lead over rivals,” writes Phil Wahba. At present time, Amazon accounts for 34% of online sales in the United States.

With Amazon’s dominance of the U.S. eCommerce market, the company and its CEO have some pretty major plans for the coming years. Jeff Bezos — who also stands as the world’s second-richest person — is taking his space tourism endeavors quite seriously, even going so far as to reveal plans to pump a billion dollars of his own money into Blue Origin. In the past few weeks, Amazon has also pushed for a heavier presence in the worlds of football and grocery shopping.

Amazon Acquires Streaming Rights to NFL’s Thursday Night Football

Following last year’s Twitter streaming deal, the NFL recently closed a new deal with Amazon for the streaming rights to its Thursday Night Football games. Beating out Facebook, Twitter and Google’s YouTube, Amazon will be streaming the games for free to its 66 million Amazon Prime subscribers. The $50 million USD deals gives Amazon streaming rights to the 10 games that will show next fall, although the rights are not exclusive as NBC, CBS and Verizon will also be streaming the games. The deal is the first major streaming move for sports and marks Amazon’s live sports push as noted by the company’s head of business development and entertainment, who said, “For us, this is about starting to bring live sports to our Prime members all around the world.”

Amazon Announces Digital Day, A 24-Hour Sales Event Over New Years

The holiday shopping frenzy might be coming to a conclusion, but Amazon is setting up one more way for consumers to go on a spending spree before the new year begins. As revealed by a recent public announcement, the online retailer is planning to launch a 24-hour sales event called Digital Day. The daylong event will begin at 12am PST this Friday, December 30; for the duration of Digital Day, customers will be able to rack up savings that reach all the way up to 80 percent. As its name suggests, Digital Day will impact sales of digital download items such as movies, music, video games, software and comics. At present time, Amazon has yet to reveal any more specific details regarding its latest major promotion, but stay tuned as more information becomes available. For those looking to stock up on digital content, it looks like you will have one more opportunity to indulge before 2016 concludes. You can read up on Digital Day at Amazon’s official website.

Amazon Launches New Streaming Service Amazon Music Unlimited

“Aren’t there already enough music streaming services?” you ask. Apparently, Amazon doesn’t think so. Following several months of rumors, the company announced Wednesday morning that it would be launching its own streaming service called Amazon Music Unlimited, as reported by the Associated Press.

Anyone can sign up for $10 per month, much like Spotify or Apple Music. The main difference comes through its integration into Amazon’s pre-existing business model. Amazon Prime members, who pay $99 for free shipping and other perks, can add an Amazon Music Unlimited subscription for only $8 per month. Prime membership already comes with a limited version of the streaming service, but the upgrade will expand the database to “tens of millions of songs.”

If you own Amazon’s newfangled smart speaker system Echo, it will only cost you $4, although it limits you to one device. The speaker’s Siri-like voice assistant Alexa can assist you with playing and searching for music as well.

Amazon is just the latest entrant into the already-crowded field of music streaming services. It will compete against services like Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, and SoundCloud Go. This follows a rapid shift in consumer habits related to music, with digital downloads quickly falling as streaming picks up steam. Still, the business model behind streaming has come under fire from a number of artists, who have complained that it leads to unfairly low compensation for their work. Despite this, most of these companies, including Spotify and Tidal, continue to lose money every year.

Regardless, consumer habits seem to indicate that streaming is the future, and Amazon is clearly trying to fight for its own share of the market. Amazon Music Unlimited is available now.

Amazon To Open 100 Pop-Up Stores In Next Year

Two years after Amazon opened two real-life seasonal pop-up stores in San Francisco and Sacramento, the company is reportedly working on a plan to open 100 more of the limited-run stores. 

Business Insider, citing people familiar with the matter, reports that Amazon will open dozens of new pop-up stores at malls across the country starting in 2017, adding to the 22 locations already up and running.

The stores, which will differ from the physical book stores Amazon has focused on and often have more of a kiosk feel, will showcase the e-commerce giant’s devices, particularly the connected home speaker, Echo, tablets, and e-readers.

Like Apple’s retail stores, the locations offer customers the option to test-drive devices, ask questions of experts, and make purchases.

The soon-to-open storefronts are expected to open in rapid succession, with as many as 30 total stores likely to be in operation by the end of this year, the source tells Business Insider.

While Amazon is notoriously silent on confirming the locations of pop-up stores before they open, the company launched a new website dedicated to the venture.

As of Friday, the site showed 22 pop-up stores operating in 12 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.

The pop-up nature of the stores seems to be somewhat dubious, as Business Insider reports that the San Francisco store that opened in 2014 is still in operation.

Additionally, job listings for positions at soon-to-open stores in Connecticut and Florida describe the venture as having “emerged from the test phase with a goal to expand and grow.”

Black Friday Shopping Has Already Begun at Amazon

In gearing up for the holiday rush, Amazon has launched a new Black Friday Deals Store. The online shop is open to all customers, although Prime members have access to over 30,000 “Lightning Deals” 30 minutes before other individuals. Amazon’s Black Friday Deals Store already features thousands of deals for all shoppers, ranging from electronics and toys to clothes, jewelry and more. Deals can get up to as much as 70% off.

In recent years, more and more consumers have turned to online shopping, and this year, select brick and mortar stores are already planning on being closed on Black Friday.

Clearwater School Which Was First in World ‘to Replace Textbooks’ with Kindles Now ‘Never Uses Them’, Students Say

A Clearwater school which bought a brand new Kindle for each of its students five years ago has still not paid for many of them – and most have never been used.

In 2010 Clearwater High School became the first school in the world to buy a Kindle e-reader for each of its 1,750 students because it thought Kindles would replace textbooks.

A promotional video made by Amazon back in 2012 shows students at the school using the Kindles.

But current students have revealed the Kindles are rarely – if ever – used.

Student Raymani Hill, a Clearwater High School junior, told ABC Action News most of the students do not take the Kindles home and claims she did not check one out at all during her first two years at the school.

The channel reports Clearwater High borrowed against six years of the school’s technology funds to buy 2,300 Kindles for $177.66 – and the loan is still being repaid.

Then in 2012 the school’s principal, Keith Mastorides, requested that the Pinellas County Board of Education allow him to buy another 1,000 Kindle Fires at a cost of $169 each, using ‘grants and internal accounts.’

In an email to the news channel he said they needed that number because 20 per cent of the devices are broken each year and are replaced by warranties or student-purchased insurance.

‘They were Frisbees in school. They would break and kids would test their durability by throwing them across the school,’ he said.

The school claims to offer 27 English, math and science textbooks on Kindle – but Raymani maintains she has never had any of her textbooks on Kindle.

Records show only 44 Clearwater high students actually checked out a Kindle last year.