Amazon Alexa Skill Store Gets Two Big Updates – One Was Unintentional
Earlier this month, Amazon changed the layout of its U.S. Alexa skills page, and it is a significant departure from the previous design. Alexa skill listings now also have a pricing field in the U.S. and several other countries, but only one skill carries a price tag and it is only available in the U.S.
Alexa Skill Landing Page – From Discovery to Journey
This Alexa skill landing page was originally conceived as a visual catalog to help drive the discovery of third-party Alexa skills. You can see an example of this below from the UK. There is a hero image slider that promotes some select third-party skills with several carousels below it with easy access to other popular skills. Developers have told Voicebot that this visual real estate is valuable and, in the past, has driven 8x higher discovery in the period they were featured. This legacy design remains live in most countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, and Germany.
However, the new U.S. Alexa skill page reserves no visual real estate at the top of the landing page for third-party developers. The new design is more like an Alexa product brochure as opposed to a catalog of third-party experiences. When you click through to one of the fourteen different feature categories such as Smart Home, Productivity, or Shopping, you are more likely to see first-party Alexa services than third-party skills.
Amazon is clearly putting its native functionality more at the top of its messaging hierarchy than in the past when it more prominently featured skills created by its large developer ecosystem. To be clear, there are some third-party skills highlighted at the bottom of the U.S. page. However, it is a long-scroll to get there. In between, there are how-to videos and other information to help the new user. The updated design appears to be focused more on a “how-to” journey for new users as opposed to existing users that might be looking for additional feature discovery.
An Amazon spokesperson commented to Voicebot by email, “We are always working to improve our customer experience, and have updated the homepage to create a one-stop destination for customers to learn the breadth of what Alexa can do and how to do it, see what’s new, and access Alexa-related resources. This includes skills, features and more. For example, skills are prominently represented across our category pages – like the Fun and Games page. By starting to include skills more prominently among Alexa’s broader capabilities, we believe it will be easier for customers to get started with skills.”
This move will not be popular with Alexa skill developers. Consumer surveys conducted by Voicebot suggest only about half of Amazon smart speaker users have knowingly activated a third-party Alexa skill. The most common request by developers are for tools to drive more skill discovery. They want more exposure and more users.
There are many places on Amazon’s U.S. website that do feature third-party skills even after this update. Just visit any of the skill category landing pages to see an example. In addition, there are discovery options within the Alexa app and by voice directly to the Alexa assistant. It is also worth mentioning that the main Alexa skill landing page generally only shows skills that are already popular as opposed to niche offerings. However, losing any chance at free promotion is sure to be a disappointment.
Prices for Alexa Skills
The other interesting change made recently was the introduction of pricing alongside Alexa skill listings on Amazon’s e-commerce sites. However, it appears this is a bug and is likely to go away. I was first made aware of it in a Tweet by Bradley Metrock over the weekend. It took me a couple of days to get to the bottom of it, but as suspected, this brings skills more in line with other listings on Amazon.com, which invariably have a price. With that said, the update was unintentionally applied to skills. I am being told it is a bug and not a feature.
Some example listings are displayed below. You can see each has a price listed under the star rating for that skill. This is true even of skills that enable In-skill purchases (ISP). While five of these listings in the image below only offer free versions, Big Sky has premium offerings that can be purchased in addition to its free version. The catalog listing here correctly shows the price as free even though there is a paid upgrade option.
The only skill listing I’ve come across that has a price tag is for Samuel L. Jackson. This isn’t your typical skill. It allows you to set “Hey Samuel” as the wake word and have many common Alexa interactions in Samuel L. Jackson’s voice. This feature has no free option, so it is only listed as a paid option.
Interestingly, this bug showed up in other English language sites and in Germany but not in Brazil. There were some skill developers that saw this as a positive move that would enable more options for monetization. This appears not to be the case…for now.