It’s clear that Amazon sees local search on Alexa devices as strategic. And to date, local business data on Alexa devices has come indirectly through Yelp. However, as of today, Yext will submit business listings directly to Amazon.
For the time being, the supported data includes business name, address, phone and hours of operation. However, Yext indicated to me in email that there are plans to expand the data fields over time. Of course, they would say that, but it raises intriguing possibilities about content and product discovery.
Already a meaningful percentage of smart speaker owners have looked for local business information using a Google Home or Alexa device. Based on a recent survey from NPR, 36 percent of those who have owned one of these devices for less than a year said they had looked up restaurants or local business information.
There are between 40 and 50 million smart speakers in US homes today, with that number projected to grow significantly. The same NPR study showed that a substantial percentage of owners were seeking to “reduce screen time” in buying a smart speaker and some of their smartphone behaviors were transferring to their speakers.
The presence or absence of a screen is an “X variable” in how the smart speaker market evolves. The Amazon Echo Show, which features a touch screen, is a disappointment and has so far underperformed sales expectations (evidenced by Amazon’s aggressive discounting). But several “smart display” Google Assistant-powered devices are scheduled to hit the market this year.
Search on these devices could simply mimic the functionality of smartphones or tablets. However, if smart displays don’t take off, local search on a screenless device will have to take a different form.
Deeper, richer and more specific data (e.g., on product inventory) and wizard-like guided voice search could make smart speakers into very effective search tools, but very different from what exists today. That’s what makes the Yext-Amazon deal provocative to consider, depending on the data that eventually becomes available.