Amazon Takes Aim at Best Buy's Geek Squad

At 9:00 p.m. ET tonight, Inc.’s (NASDAQ: AMZN) Prime Day officially begins and runs for the next 30 hours. It’s a high-profile, widely promoted event that Amazon hopes will add up to more subscribers willing to pay $99 a year for its Amazon Prime service.

Somewhat less visible on the radar is a new service the company is not promoting heavily but could be a big deal of its own. Amazon Smart Home Services is the company’s answer to Best Buy Co. Inc.’s (NYSE: BBY) 15-year-old Geek Squad installation and repair service.

Amazon’s service is available in seven cities and offers the services of company experts that help consumers set up a smart home — one centered, of course, on Amazon’s Echo voice-controlled device, using the Alexa voice-recognition system.

Unlike the Home Services program that Amazon launched late last year, Amazon Smart Home staff will be Amazon employees, not contractors. According to the company’s website:

They have been handpicked for their technology experience, passion for customer service, and strong track record. All experts have been background-checked and are licensed and certified where applicable. Think of them like your technology-savvy best friend – they listen to your needs and customize solutions that work for you.

According to a report at Recode, Amazon has listed jobs for “field technicians” in several other cities and “preferred qualifications include past work as an Apple Genius or Geek Squad Double Agent.”

The Amazon pros not only install devices in your home, they help you pick the devices: “We’ve vetted hundreds of products and made sure they’re certified to work with Alexa, so we can recommend the best products for your needs.”

While Amazon has essentially devastated brick-and-mortar retailing, the e-commerce giant recognizes that there are areas where the digital and the real worlds collide, especially for consumers who often can’t figure out how to make all these smart thermostats and home security systems work together with a voice-controlled device. And there’s about to be more traffic at the intersection.

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) will launch its HomePod, an Echo competitor with a speaker and Siri voice control in December. Alphabet Inc.’s (NASDAQ: GOOGL) Google Home device is powered by Google’s voice-controlled Assistant, and the company owns Nest, makers of smart thermostats and camera security systems.

Amazon has discovered that smart home devices (and their integration into single coherent smart home environment) can’t just be tossed into the marketplace with the expectation that they will be widely adopted. Will Apple or Google follow suit with roving bands of tech experts to support their own smart home integration? Can Best Buy beat back Amazon’s latest foray into home services?

Over its history, Amazon has shown a willingness to lose money on products and services it believes will become winners. Amazon Prime now claims an estimated 85 million U.S. subscribers — nearly as many Americans as subscribe to pay TV. Prime subscribers spend twice as much at Amazon as non-Prime customers. Amazon smart home installation services have to start somewhere.