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Amazon is the ruthless corporate juggernaut people love

Illustrations by Garret Beard and William Joel

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Amazon is far and away the most trusted and well-liked tech brand, more so than its current smart home rivals Apple and Google, according to a survey conducted by The Verge in partnership with consulting firm Reticle Research. This sentiment may prove to be more valuable than any other consumer metric in the years to come, as Amazon continues to aggressively push into hardware products that are primarily designed to listen and respond to our every command in the home.

Apple and Google are increasingly vying for more of that market as well: this month, Google launched a new, smaller Home Mini speaker that is designed to compete with Amazon’s Echo Dot. Apple plans to enter the smart home officially this December, with the launch of its Siri-powered HomePod speaker.

Not only do consumers trust Amazon with sensitive personal details about what they purchase and data about their interests, they trust the brand almost as much as they trust their bank, the survey finds. Among the top five big tech brands — Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft — Amazon ranks highest among consumers asked how willing they'd be to recommend the company’s services to friends and family.

Amazon ranks highest among consumers asked how willing they'd be to recommend the company’s services

Amazon also ranks highest on passion, beating out Apple and the others when consumers were asked which brand they’d care the most about missing if it were to disappear tomorrow. The survey, conducted from September 28th to October 10th, included 1,520 people nationally representative of the US, based on 2016 US Census estimates.

There are a number of reasons why Amazon is taking the lead on consumer trust. The brand has for years now spent billions, even suffering wildly inconsistent quarterly financial results, to improve its services and enter new markets. Unlike Apple, which has the largest cash hoard of any company on the planet, Amazon maintains the appearance of prioritizing the value and efficiency of its services, like its Prime membership, over financial gain. Following its $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods, Amazon’s very first business strategy was to drop the price of avocados, organic eggs, meat, and other popular grocery items.

Of course, Amazon’s long-term goals are to crush the competition and ruthlessly gain market share, as it did first in books and then e-books and now general e-commerce. There’s no telling what Amazon will do to prices once it does have dominance in an arena as broad as groceries. But its past behavior has shown that it likes to scale up to turn previously risky gambles into generally accepted norms — two-day shipping and a ceiling on the price of e-books, for instance — rather than abuse them in the short term to overcharge consumers later on.

Suffice to say that though Amazon has raised the price of its Prime membership in the past, it's also continued to expand its offerings, from a growing video library to the continued support of two-day and now same-day shipping. The company has also discussed plans to launch a drone-supported, FedEx and UPS competitor to make deliveries happen at a much grander scale. The company has already started leasing its own Boeing cargo planes to lower costs as well. All of this contributes to the perception that Amazon is adamant about keeping customers satisfied and hooked on its services, even if it means hemorrhaging cash now and again.

The company’s general lack of privacy controversies and product fumbles (Fire Phone aside), also paint the picture of a corporation that clearly wants to take over the world, while making life more convenient for its consumers in the process. When survey respondents were asked which of the big tech companies had the most positive impact on society, Amazon ranked first again.

Amazon already has a sizeable lead in the smart home compared to its primary competitors. In a report from Strategy Analytics issued earlier this month, Amazon controls nearly 70 percent of the smart speaker market. And analyst firm NPD Group, which issued a report on home automation earlier this month, says nearly half of all Amazon Echo owners go on to buy their first home automation product after owning a voice-controlled speaker. Those that work with Amazon then get the benefit of its growing ecosystem, which includes more developers than Google on top of seven of its own Echo products and the Fire TV set-top box.

When it comes to privacy, one of the biggest factors consumers consider when bringing a voice-controlled, always-on speaker into the home, Amazon beats Google on the sheer fact that its business model does not revolve around selling data to advertisers. Google is also combating years of built-up sentiment that it spies on everything we do for the purpose of marketing that information to data brokers. When its new Home Mini speaker went out to gadget reviewers earlier this month, the company scrambled to fix an issue that inadvertently led it to record users thousands of times a day. It was an unfortunate error due to a hardware bug, but it reinforced a sentiment that skeptics already have: Google wants your information, and now it’s in your home.

Amazon even beats Apple on consumer trust

Amazon doesn’t have these issues, even after its Echo speaker became the center of a high-profile murder case in Arkansas last year. (When police couldn’t extract data from the device itself, they submitted a warrant for the data on Amazon’s servers. The company fought the warrant vigorously on First Amendment grounds until the suspect gave permission.) The company even beats Apple on consumer trust, despite the iPhone maker’s drawn-out fight with the FBI last year over unlocking the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone 5C. While Apple has long championed its track record on consumer privacy, the company doesn’t seem to engender the same kind of positive responses it once did — the result of a number of factors including perhaps its higher prices, its lack of thoughtful new ideas, and seemingly anti-consumer moves like removing the headphone jack from the iPhone.

What’s clear is that Amazon already has consumers’ trust, and it will take a major slip-up for it to truly cede ground to Apple or Google. That creates an uphill battle for Apple’s first smart speaker, which is not yet even on the market. It also pits Google, and its well-known reputation for giving away free services in exchange for targeted ads, against a company some users trust almost as much as the financial institutions that oversee their savings.