At first glance, the technically and logically minded person would wonder why Amazon thinks that an AI like Alexa, within the new Echo Look, peering into your bedroom and making clothing recommendations would be a hit product. But then one has to understand the psychology of the product. At that point, all becomes clear.
The Echo Look
If you haven’t heard about the Echo Look, here are two articles that will bring you up to speed.
- The Amazon Echo Look Will Transform The Closet And The Fashion Industry
- Amazon Has a New Echo That Tells You If Your Outfit Sucks
Basically, Echo Look an an updated Echo with a microphone, camera and a flash. Upon the required command, it takes a picture of your outfit and diagnoses your attire. If it’s not up to speed, Amazon will help you purchase something that better fills the bill.
On the surface, it seems like a great idea. After all, going to the mall and trying on clothes from a limited selection in any given store, can be a real pain.
Of course, the opportunity for mischief here is what intrigues me. Naturally, when I think about a product like this, I ponder the potential problems related to intrusion, invasion of privacy, and the prospect of an AI dictating to us what to wear. Part of being an adult, you know, is figuring out what to wear for any given occasion.
The Psychology of Decision Making
Without guidance, I would have been at a loss to describe the appeal of such a product and the corporate mentality behind creating such a product. Fortunately, I have been reading a terrific book in the evenings. It’s the story, told by Michael Lewis, of psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Forty years ago, these two researchers revolutionized our thinking about how people make decisions. Here’s the book:
The book is a glorious story about how two brilliant psychologists overturned years of not-very-thoughtful psychology research into how people make decisions and judgments. I’ll leave you to explore it, and I highly recommend it.
If I can properly state just one of the many findings, and I hope I do this correctly, it’s this. When people want something bad enough, they’ll underestimate the risks. To quote directly, from the discussion of lotteries, as just one example of statistical rationalization….
They [the test subjects] feared a one-in-a-billion chance of loss more than they should and attached more hope to a one-in-a-billion gain than they should.
What I’m seeing is that products like this are wrapped in the prospect of great utility, great gain. The allure is so great that the customer feels a strong urge to buy based only on the facts revealed by the developer. When a customer wants something cool, bad enough, their natural tendency is to rationalize away and mentally minimize the possible risks.
A marketing philosophy that exploits this understanding of human psychology goes a long way towards explaining how reasonable, knowledgeable technical people will be alarmed by the almost certain, predictable risks, but the product sells like hotcakes anyway. [To be sure, we don’t yet know how this particular product will sell. It’s still early.]
In summary, the book by Michael Lewis has changed the way I look at the design and marketing of consumer products. It’s literally a gold mine of insights. It explains so much about human decision making that I’ll never think the old way; I’ll never again wonder why people seem to ignore certain risks when they make a purchase decision. It’s wired into how our brains work.
Now. About those pajamas you’re wearing. Disgusting.
Decisions graphic via Shutterstock.