A few weeks ago, Amazon made what I think was a major product announcement that might have flown under your radar. No, it wasn't that the Echo Show 10 (3rd Gen) or Echo Frames (2nd Gen) finally became available for general purchase after months of waiting. In fact, the news wasn't really about a single product at all.
The announcement I'm referring to was actually for three new products; well, three prospective products, that is. These three products are certainly interesting, and we'll get to them in a second. But what's more interesting to me is the bigger story that they are a part of — the story about Amazon's Kickstarter and Indiegogo crowdfunding competitor called Amazon Build It.
Amazon Build It how it works
Build It is Amazon's answer to address the headache, uncertainty, and confusion that often come with backing a crowdfunding campaign on sites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo. An extension of Amazon's experimental Day 1 Editions program, Build It offers Amazon customers an opportunity to preorder innovative new products at lower introductory prices and assures that they will be the first to receive the products if and when they are funded.
In its public statements and blog, Amazon says that it created the Build It program to give its most vocal and enthusiastic customers a greater voice on what products and devices that it makes. This allows the company to gauge interest in and support for new ideas that it wants to approach in a manner that is low risk and high-reward both for Amazon and its customers.
There is typically a 30-day campaign period, during which the products are available for preorder. That may sound similar to other crowdfunding platforms, but there are a few advantages to Amazon's approach. First, customers are not charged a penny unless and until the campaign is funded and the product ships. Secondly, the products are conceived and designed by Amazon's own creative team, so customers can expect a high level of design and quality. And finally, the products are backed by Amazon's customer service, so customers don't have to worry about the responsiveness of unknown manufacturers or individuals.
Theoretically, once a campaign has been funded and the product has been shipped to customers who preordered it, the device could become more widely available for purchase, much as the Echo Frames (2nd Gen) graduated from a Day 1 Editions product to a mass consumer device. However, Amazon has made no such claims at this time.
Amazon Build It what it offers
For the launch of Build It, Amazon has put forth several Alexa-enabled devices that its creative team has thought up and has wanted to build. These include a Smart Sticky Note Printer, a Smart Nutrition Scale, and a Smart Cuckoo Clock. None of the devices have Alexa built-in; rather, they work in tandem with an existing Alexa speaker or the Alexa app to realize their ultimate utility. Of course, in the case of the Smart Cuckoo Clock, that will serve its primary purpose even if you don't invoke your smart assistant.
The introductory prices for these three devices range from $35 to $90 and fall right in line with the prices of many of the best Alexa devices. You can choose to preorder more than one, but you'll need to do so from each product page (linked below).
Amazon Build It criticisms
Just about every move that a tech behemoth like Amazon makes is heavily scrutinized, and rightfully so. That scrutiny has already begun to extend to the new Build It program, with concerns being voiced in some circles that Amazon is being anti-competitive at best, or potentially engaging in unsavory business practices, at worst.
Now personally, I have yet to come across any anti-competitive complaints about these three Build It launch products. Still, Amazon has faced criticism in the recent past from companies like Allbirds, Peak Design, and Nucleus that it copied those companies' products to produce its own, lower-cost and better-promoted alternatives.
As with many of its non-shopping endeavors such as its Amazon Music Unlimited or Prime Video services, Amazon isn't necessarily trying to make money from this effort — it doesn't have to. It can afford to run the Build It program as a fun side project, but that's not the case for Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or the businesses and entrepreneurs that depend on those sites to generate customer funding to produce and ship their products. Will those independent companies and entrepreneurs be negatively impacted if Build It succeeds? Might there be room for third-party participation on Build It in the future? Only time will tell.
Amazon Build It will you buy?
Interestingly, as of this writing, only the most expensive of the three devices — the Smart Sticky Note Printer — has been fully funded and is guaranteed to be made and shipped out to customers. In fact, it hit that target in just three days! I must confess that I, too, was intrigued by this little printer and preordered one for myself. I generally use my phone to check off my to-dos when I'm out and about, but I'm looking forward to just carrying around a short paper list the next time I hit up my local grocery store. If you're interested in either the Smart Nutrition Scale or Smart Cuckoo Clock, you still have until March 19th to preorder.
The Build It products are not limited to Prime members, so anyone can preorder them now. However, if you're not currently a Prime member, now is as good a time as any to sign up. Amazon Prime comes with all sorts of extra benefits, such as free shipping and returns, audio and video content, and family sharing.
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