business news in context, analysis with attitude

...with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

TechCrunch reports that Amazon's Echo/Alexa system "has now passed 15,000 skills – the voice-powered apps that run on devices like the Echo speaker, Echo Dot, newer Echo Show and others. The figure is up from the 10,000 skills Amazon officially announced back in February, which had then represented a 3x increase from September ... The milestone also represents a more than doubling of the number of skills that were available at the beginning of the year, when Voicebot reported there were then 7,000 skills. That number was officially confirmed by Amazon at CES."

The story notes that there is a potential downside with this rate of growth, that Amazon is "building out an entire voice app ecosystem so quickly that it hasn’t even been able to implement the usual safeguards – like a team that closely inspects apps for terms of service violations, for example, or even tools that allow developers to make money from their creations ... In the long run, Amazon’s focus on growth over app ecosystem infrastructure could catch up with it. But for now, its Alexa platform is much further ahead than its nearest competitor. Though Google Home saw a spike from holiday sales, it’s the Echo Dot that’s being adopted in droves thanks to its lower price point."

"Adopted in droves" may be an understatement, especially on the developer side. The story points out that "Google Home has just 378 voice apps available as of June 30, Voicebot notes. Microsoft’s Cortana has only 65."

• The Associated Press reports that Amazon has completed its acquisition of Dubai-based, the Middle East's biggest online retailer. Terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

The AP story points out that the deal will allow Amazon to "leapfrog into the crucial Mideast markets of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, where the retailer already has local operations."

• The Wall Street Journal reports that as expected, Nike has begun selling directly to Amazon, reversing course on a long-held policy that seemed rooted in the belief that Nike was so cool that it neither needed nor wanted a presence on the preeminent e-commerce site.

That has changed, especially since Amazon is tied for first place with Foot Locker as the nation's largest purveyor of athletic shoes, which gives it enormous power in the marketplace. Nike's decision, however, has had two casualties - third-part sellers who were peddling Nike products via Amazon and now are being phased out, and counterfeiters, who are facing far more aggressive monitoring by Amazon (which was a condition for getting Nike to sign on).

Reuters reports that the Amazon move to acquire Whole Foods has presented stock brokers, analysts and fund managers with a new challenge as they make investment decisions and recommendations - finding categories and companies that they believe "Amazon can't or won't reach."

According to the story, "Emerging options include theme restaurant chains, recreational vehicle makers and sellers of stuff that's just too heavy to ship via Amazon's network. Meanwhile, some fund managers are increasingly convinced the only way to play consumer spending is to move away from brands and retailers and into logistics and supply chain companies, essentially betting e-commerce will render most consumer companies obsolete."

Fortune reports that "Chinese tech giant Alibaba will introduce a voice-controlled device to compete with Amazon’s Echo ... the device will be targeted at the Chinese market, and will support voice-controlled shopping on Alibaba’s e-commerce sites." The announcement could come within a week.

The story notes that "Alibaba’s move would further squeeze Amazon's limited footprint in China, "where its market share is already reportedly under 1%."
KC's View: