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Last week, Amazon unveiled the Amazon Echo Look, a new $200 device that allows owners to take full-length photos and videos.
Pitched by Amazon as a "hands-free camera and style assistant," the Echo Look can be used by owners to create fashion lookbooks and share photos and videos with friends.
Owners can also feed the photos they take to Style Check, an Amazon service that offers up fashion recommendations. Using machine-learning technology and human feedback, Style Check compares two photos and lets an individual know which one has the better outfit.
According to Amazon, Style Check takes into consideration "fit, color, styling, seasons and current trends".
The Echo Look's camera is depth-sensing and the device features LED lighting. Its hardware adds computer vision-based background blur.
But the Echo Look is more than a camera. As its name suggests, the Echo Look is, like Amazon's Echo and Echo Dot devices, a voice-controlled device that integrates all of the capabilities of Amazon's Alexa intelligent personal assistant.
Will privacy concerns doom the Echo Look's prospects?
Many articles about the Echo Look point out the privacy implications of the device. The presence of a camera is an obvious source of concern as webcams on laptops have been hijacked and used to secretly make recordings. And the fact that the photos users take with the Echo Look will be uploaded to Amazon's cloud only adds to the concern.
But if the growth of speaker devices like the Echo is any indication (one report estimates that sales through such devices will hit $2.1bn within the next four years), it seems that large numbers of consumers are willing to live with the privacy risks if they perceive that the value they are receiving in return outweighs those privacy risks.
What is Amazon really up to?
Some observers are scratching their heads at the Echo Look given its fashion focus. But Amazon's interest in fashion isn't really hard to understand. While Amazon has its hands in just about every nook and cranny of the retail market, apparel is a multi-trillion dollar business. The global market for womenswear alone is worth over a half a trillion dollars annually.
If Look takes off, it could become a source of valuable data that Amazon can use to further fuel its progress in apparel markets. As TechCrunch's Natasha Lomas pointed out, even a decade ago, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos observed, "In order to be a $200bn company we've got to learn how to sell clothes and food."
Amazon appears to be well on its way to figuring out how to sell clothes and has been investing heavily in apparel. In fact, according to research firm Cowen Company, Amazon now has a third more apparel buyers than Target, and slightly more than Walmart. The online retail giant has opened its own fashion photography studios and extended its private label efforts into fashion.
By Cowen Company's estimates, these investments will help Amazon capture 14% of the US apparel market by 2020, making it the largest domestic apparel retailer.
Not surprisingly, Amazon says that Echo Look "helps you discover new brands and styles inspired by your lookbook," indicating that Amazon will be putting to immediate use the data it collects through Echo Look devices to make personalized recommendations that can drive apparel sales.
But Amazon Echo Look isn't just about Amazon's efforts to dominate fashion retail. Taking a step back, the Echo Look is the type of offering that could help Amazon convince even more consumers to put voice-based intelligent assistant devices into their homes.
While voice-based devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home are gaining traction, there are obviously still large segments of the consumer population that don't yet see enough value in these devices so as to be compelled to buy them. By bringing its voice interface Alexa to consumers through a fashion-focused device, Amazon has arguably created a Trojan horse, as consumers who purchase the Echo Look for the fashion-centric functionality can be introduced to all of the benefits of Alexa.
That makes the Look a win-win for Amazon and highlights how other companies could develop their own Trojan horses to bring their intelligent personal assistants to a broader market.