By Jack Cumming

Remember when Amazon was revolutionizing how we shop? We still shop on Amazon, but you may have noticed that it’s been a long time since Amazon gave us a breakthrough.

What lessons can we learn for senior living from how Amazon is struggling now under the direction of second-generation management? Amazon is no longer the fresh-thinking, innovative, customer-focused enterprise it once was, and neither is the senior living industry.

Innovative Leadership

Jeff Bezos was a brilliant, committed entrepreneur. He left a stellar opportunity at D. E. Shaw to take a flyer on forming a new company to take advantage of the internet. He was the right person at the right time. New ideas flew fast and furious in the form of five-to-six-page brainstorming essays. Implementation of those ideas was an all-hands-on-deck team performance. Jeff’s values resonated with the public. Amazon soared toward the stratosphere.

Now that excitement, energy, and mission seem muted. It’s still there, somewhere, when it can be found. Moreover, one of the best examples of how Amazon is losing momentum is found in its approach to senior living. It’s called Alexa Smart Properties. As it turns out, Amazon’s Alexa operations are completely separate from its Fire TV operations. Otherwise, Amazon might have had an opportunity to leapfrog all comers, as it did with its retailing initiatives.

What’s Everywhere?

We’ll drill down a bit on this lost opportunity. Let’s start at the beginning. The most ubiquitous device found in homes, hotels, hospitals, health care, and more is the television. The Alexa Echo Show has a built-in mini-television and is wisely engineered to promote connectivity. That’s wonderful for human socialization, which is what lifts us as people above other creatures. We are gregarious and like to connect by nature.

Shortly before Jeff Bezos stepped back, Amazon developed with TCL a television lacking only a suitable camera to make it a transformative Echo-type device. The success of Alexa and Echo shows how quickly Amazon might have parlayed the centrality of household televisions into a transformation comparable to what the company did for retailing. But that’s not what’s happened. Fire TV now has over 200 million installed units worldwide, yet Amazon keeps a sharp divide between Alexa ops and Fire TV ops. The Omni TV crossed that boundary and then was stopped. The potential was squandered.

Amazon’s Pitch

Not long ago, I attended an Amazon webinar titled Entertainment in the Age of LLMs. The idea was to present Amazon as cutting-edge in artificial intelligence. It’s not. Midway through the webinar, a glib presenter was brought on to show how, with AI, you could interact with your Alexa-enabled TV to find content through “natural conversation.” Of course, what was “natural” was clearly rehearsed. With Alexa, it’s best to use the language she knows.

Indicative of how siloed Amazon appears to have become, the presenter stood there with a remote in his hand. He could only talk to the TV through the remote’s “press to talk” microphone. That’s World War II technology. What happened to the TCL Omni TV, which can be addressed from anywhere in the room just like an Echo Show? Presumably, that’s a different Amazon division.

The Importance of Socialization

During the webinar, the ability of a camera-equipped television to bring families together over distances was not mentioned. One thinks immediately of a deployed military person serving in a distant land and culture who might connect with family and children. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Dad on the living room television, full-sized and glowing with love given and love received. What a lost cause for Amazon!

Actually, during the marketing webinar, Amazon did try to claim that kind of family togetherness. The Amazon demo man showed how he could ask Fire TV to suggest movies appropriate for family viewing. He said, “When we played [the selected movie] on TV, it was more immersive, more familial. It brought us together.” Wow, watching a movie together is almost like distant Dad asking his kids how their day went. Or is it?

Senior Living Opportunity

Let’s turn back to senior living. Older people don’t need higher definition. 1080 or even 720 verticals are just fine. Older people do need connection. And there was Amazon on the precipice of upending Samsung and LG with a TV that might have provided just that.

Moreover, Amazon had the already incredibly successful Echo platform, made to order for the task. The opportunity was there. The viewer could speak to the TV without even needing a remote. Heaven knows that many senior living residents get totally confused by the multiplicity of remotes that land in front of them. Think of how convenient it can be for an elder confined to skilled nursing to be able to operate the TV without a remote. Remotes regularly get lost in the bedclothes.

That promising Amazon Omni TV appeared in 2021, almost three years ago. Even then, one had to wonder why it wasn’t an Amazon Echo TV. Since then, nothing. Oh, not nothing — that TCL TV, with the potential to elasticize the inelastic market share among TV manufacturers, got a higher definition screen but no camera, certainly not a zooming camera like the Owl, and it still stops short of full Echo capabilities. That makes no sense.

Forgetting the Consumer

In the meantime, Alexa Smart Properties, supposedly the dream for senior living, isn’t available for residents to buy. The only sale is to the provider. The residents’ own Alexa devices become no more than confusion, much like those multiplying remotes. Alexa Smart Properties needs a separate, business-bought device in addition to anything the consumer may already have.

Amazon seems to have gotten caught up in the faddish notions of B2B as preferable to B2C. That ignores that at the end of the chain, there is always a consumer. The businesses in B2B need consumers. B2B, at its best, is only B2B2C. The fad of the easy sale will pass.

Is It the Change of Command?

Intriguingly, it was also 2021 when Andy Jassy, a Harvard grad who has worked solely for Amazon since getting his MBA, took over the Amazon CEO slot from Jeff Bezos. Is Jassy the reason Amazon is resting on its laurels? Are there lessons for senior living in the generational shift that is occurring at Amazon? What does it take to keep an organization fresh and thriving? Lots of questions. Let’s hope that senior living has not lost its mojo.