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Jeff Bezos: 'Market research doesn’t help'

Julia La Roche

Sometimes, people don’t know they want something until they have it. And so for innovators, it may be a futile exercise to ask consumers what it is they want.

In his new letter to Amazon (AMZN) shareholders, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos talks about how consumer feedback didn’t lead to the development of Amazon’s popular Echo device.

“No customer was asking for Echo,” Bezos wrote. “This was definitely us wandering. Market research doesn’t help. If you had gone to a customer in 2013 and said ‘Would you like a black, always-on cylinder in your kitchen about the size of a Pringles can that you can talk to and ask questions, that also turns on your lights and plays music?’ I guarantee you they’d have looked at you strangely and said ‘No, thank you.’”

Amazon Echo Plus devices sit near on display during an event announcing several new Amazon products by the company, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Bezos’s sentiment echoes Henry Ford, who is attributed with saying, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.’

To date, more than 100 million Echo and Alexa-enabled devices have been sold. According to e-Marketer, Amazon captured roughly 66.6% of the smart speaker market in the U.S., outpacing rivals like Google (GOOGL) and Apple (AAPL).

“Last year, we improved Alexa’s ability to understand requests and answer questions by more than 20%, while adding billions of facts to make Alexa more knowledgeable than ever,” Bezos said. “Developers doubled the number of Alexa skills to over 80,000, and customers spoke to Alexa tens of billions more times in 2018 compared to 2017. The number of devices with Alexa built-in more than doubled in 2018. There are now more than 150 different products available with Alexa built-in, from headphones and PCs to cars and smart home devices. Much more to come!”

Julia La Roche is a finance reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.