Am I satisfied or stuck? The impact of ecosystems on household users

July 20, 2018
The idea of connected devices and a connected home fascinates me – I’m all for anything that makes my life more convenient! I have Alexa in pretty much every room of my house; she’s even in my car. However, as I expand my connected home network, I have struggled with setting up additional devices and services. Powering them on and account linking is generally simple; the hard part is getting everything to work together.

In the case of Amazon devices (e.g., Echo) and services (e.g., Music Unlimited), if you are single or start from one family/shared email address, the connected home ecosystem is pretty simple. You have one account tied to all devices, Prime, and streaming products and services. However, once you introduce one or more additional family members, things get much more complicated.

In my case, my husband and I each had our own Amazon account when we met. Even when we got married, it didn’t make sense to share an account because we liked being able to have personalized recommendations and to keep our purchase history separate. Some years later, I stumbled across Amazon Household that lets you tie separate accounts together so you can share Prime benefits. After linking our accounts, I thought we’d truly have a “household” account that would allow us to share all services and content. Unfortunately, you can’t share everything (i.e, purchased content (video) and certain subscriptions).

Fast forward to my first Echo devices – I was so excited to set them up and try them out! But when I tested out the List functionality (‘Alexa, add milk to the shopping list’), nothing showed up in my app. Why wasn’t this working?! After trying different things (and a little cursing) I realized that I had set up the devices with my husband’s Amazon account since were gifts for him and therefore I had to sign into the Alexa app through his account, not mine. With Amazon Household, I didn’t think it would matter which account the Echos were tied to, but it does.

What is technically easy to set up, actually requires a high cognitive load each time I set up a device or access content because I have to remember which account I used for what. I currently have:

  • Amazon Prime account with my email address which is linked to my husband’s Amazon account (with his email address) so he can get Prime
  • Alexa app on my phone but signed in using my husband’s Amazon account for Echo devices and lists
  • Amazon Music Unlimited account signed in using my husband’s email address
  • Roav VIVA Alexa-enabled device in my car that requires me to sign into my Amazon app with my husband’s email address to get access to Music Unlimited, but to shop and see my recommendations, I must sign back into the Amazon app with my email

One could argue that I should have been more intentional when setting up all these devices and services. But in the moment I was so excited to get these things working that which account to use was the last thing on my mind. I’ve questioned if I should suck it up and start all over with a family account. But what would I gain? Possibly an easier setup process going forward and one account for everything, but lots of effort up front to reset everything. And what would I lose? Personalized recommendations, purchase privacy, and time!

Netflix and Hulu have overcome this multi-account hurdle with their ‘profile’ platform which generates separate watch lists and recommendations. Admittedly, they are much simpler systems with limited components.

There are huge benefits to having an ecosystem of devices and services in a home, whether it’s Amazon, Google, Apple, etc. The consumer benefits by (generally) having a seamless experience of integrating the devices and services and working from a similar interface or set of commands used across multiple devices. For the manufacturer, the benefits of having its ecosystem in a home means more loyal customers since, for the consumer, it can be difficult or impractical to try new devices when the home is entrenched in one ecosystem.

Many connected device manufacturers have created a great set-up-and-use experience with plug and play devices and simple mobile apps. However, manufacturers should think beyond the experience of a single user. Consider how a couple or family would set up, purchase, use, and add to the ecosystem. Consider couples who come with individual personal accounts and those who create a family account together. Also consider early adopters who have tied accounts to early versions of the system – ensure there is support to improve their experience as devices or new features are added. Some questions to ask include:

  • What content would users want to keep separate: purchase history, recommendations, watch/wish list, etc.
  • What content would users expect to share: purchased content, services, etc.
  • Can established individual accounts be tied together to form a true “household” account?

Ultimately, as the foothold of any ecosystem gets stronger, the user can either feel satisfied and happy or stuck and frustrated. And that feeling (satisfied or stuck) becomes associated with the brand.