Smart Home

Amazon is letting its customers pick its next products

Make these smart-devices a reality through Amazon's new crowdfunding program

Amazon's Built It program graphic of a factory churning out ideas. Credit: Amazon

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A smart cuckoo clock with a Scandinavian design; a food scale with access to an extensive nutrition database; and a smart-printer that quickly prints sticky-notes with a hands-free demand. These are all Amazon concepts that may be part of a new line of Alexa-enabled gadgets—if the public shows enough interest.

The fate of these products is in consumers' hands as the online retail giant has a new strategy when it comes to developing and marketing new and innovative devices. Instead of taking a chance on the market, Amazon is asking the market to take a chance on them, with their newly rolled out Build It program. This recently launched program aims to test the waters of consumer interest and respond to demand by allowing customers to vote through pre-orders for which ideas they'd like to see be made into reality.

We decided to dig deeper to learn more about how this program works.

What is the Amazon Build It program?

Credit: Amazon

The Build It program gives a platform to new innovations before they reach the production stage.

Built It is part of Amazon’s Day 1 Editions program, which allows customers “to gain early access to product innovations by Amazon and contribute feedback that informs future product ideas.” Amazon’s Echo Frames were a flagship product through the Day 1 Editions program, where select consumers had early insights into how the product was developed and were tapped for feedback for improvements.

Build It takes this consumer feedback model a step further, by allowing consumers to vote—in the form of pre-orders—on which products they are most likely to buy. Basically, Build It functions similarly to Kickstarter, only it’s less about crowdfunding for capital and more about crowdsourcing for interest-levels. It takes out the market-research middle man and assumptions based on trends that were previously projected by market analysts will now be hand-delivered by prospective buyers.

Amazon’s goal with this new program is to “present consumers with prospective innovation ideas and it allows them to vote with their commitment to buy which products they are most interested in,” according to Amazon's blog post.

This new consumer-centric approach may be in response to the lackluster sales of previous Day 1 Editions, like the Amazon Loop and other smart products like the Echo Look, which have since been discontinued. Instead of hoping a new product hits the mark, Build It innovations rely on early feedback from customers about what products seem like they'd be of use to them.

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As Amazon describes it, the “Build It program isn’t about raising the money to push ahead with its development and eventual manufacturing. Instead, Build It will only serve as a means to gauge public interest in the products under its purview.”

How does the Amazon Build It program work?

Credit: Amazon

If an idea doesn't meet its goal, it won't be built.

Through the Build It program, Amazon rolls out innovative concepts, and shoppers can choose to pre-order them in advance of production. The perk of pre-ordering? The pre-orders are locked in at a special discounted price. But an idea only has 30 days to reach its pre-order goal. If the product hits or exceeds its goal, Amazon will "build it" (see what they did there?). If it doesn’t reach its pre-order goal, the product gets scrapped and investors are refunded in full.

Consumers only get charged if and when a product ships and, if they change their mind about a product, they are free to cancel their pre-order any time before the item ships. According to the product pages, if these three gadgets meet their goal, they will tentatively be shipped to consumers late this summer.

Unlike most crowdfunding campaigns, Build It will not share a dollar amount raised, nor will it share the number of units sold. But interested buyers can still track a product's climbing interest level with a progress bar that reveals the percentage of necessary pre-orders achieved for the product to go into production. That exact number, though, is still unknown to the general public.

Currently, Amazon does not guarantee these devices will be for sale to the wider public after their initial 30-day campaign, ostensibly because they will likely wait for consumer feedback and reviews after the first editions ship. So, if you see something you "can't live without," now is the time to put your order in to make it a reality—as long as other shoppers do, too.

Is the Amazon Build it program worth it?

Time will tell as to how well-built these products will be, but from where we are standing, if one of these new devices catches your eye—or if you're an innovation junkie—having early-access to first editions of future products and a say in a behemoth company’s influence on the smart-device market make this program a worthwhile opportunity. All of the current products being offered are under $90 and, considering you are only expected to pay if a product comes to complete fruition, this seems to us a high-reward, low-investment situation.

If you pre-ordered a Build It product and want to return it, you'll still get a full refund, which matches Amazon's 30-day return policy on all Amazon products bought through Amazon (as opposed to a third-party seller) that are returned in like-new condition.

What's next for Build It?

Credit: Amazon

Right now, only the smart printer has met its goal, but there is still time to pre-order the cuckoo clock and the smart-scale.

The next round of Build It products has yet to be revealed, but we can expect new innovations to drop after the first campaign period ends on March 19, assuming the response goes over well.

At the time of press, only the sticky note printer has met its investment goal, having reached 100 percent of necessary purchases on the third day of the program. The cuckoo clock and the smart scale are trailing behind, and neither has hit the 50 percent mark. You can still pre-order the printer at its special $89 price with the satisfaction of knowing it will actually arrive on your doorstep, until March 19 when the 30-day pre-order window ends. If you've ever dreamed of owning a customizable cuckoo clock or a smart nutrition-scale that can tell you the sugar content in a cup of blueberries, there's still time to make those dreams a reality.

If you buy it, they will build it. Not quite a Field of Dreams, but in this new era, maybe Shopping Cart of Innovation is more apt.

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

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