For 15 years, Best Buy’s Geek Squad installation and repair service has served as one key advantage over Amazon that the e-commerce giant seemed unlikely to match.
But over the last few months, Amazon has quietly been hiring an army of in-house gadget experts to offer free Alexa consultations as well as product installations for a fee inside customer homes, multiple sources told Recode, and job postings confirm.
The new offering, which has already rolled out in seven markets without much fanfare, is aimed at helping customers set up a “smart home” — the industry term used to describe household systems like heating and lighting that can be controlled via apps, and increasingly by voice.
While Amazon has a marketplace for third parties to offer home services like TV mounting and plumbing, these new smart-home-related services seem important enough to Amazon that it is hiring its own in-house experts. And perhaps for good reason.
Smart-home gadgets make up one of the fastest-growing segments of the consumer electronics industry, but they can be difficult to set up and integrate with each other. That hurdle has led to higher-than-normal return rates, experts say, so Amazon is likely looking at the in-home services as one way to lower that number.
Perhaps more importantly, controlling the smart home by voice is one of the most promising use cases for Alexa, the virtual assistant built into the Echo line of gadgets, which Amazon is betting heavily on. So it’s not totally surprising that Amazon would make the effort to close the education gap for these products by sending its own hires into customer homes.
An Amazon spokesman declined to comment.
Amazon is charging $99 for installation services like setting up an Ecobee4 Alexa-enabled smart thermostat, though some services are discounted by 20 percent this week. Multi-device set-ups that take more than an hour may cost more. In eligible cities, shoppers can book the installations during the checkout process.
Amazon is also offering free 45-minute “Alexa Smart Home Consultations,” which were first spotted by The Spoon, a website that reports on food tech. The Amazon expert answers questions, demos Alexa-compatible gadgets and — surprise, surprise — creates a personalized shopping list for the customer.
The new in-home services are currently available in seven markets — Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Jose and Orange County, Calif — and appointments can be booked through Amazon.com
It seems as though a large expansion is on the horizon, according to Amazon job listings for “field technicians” in cities like Tampa, Hoboken, Miami, Orlando, Houston, Dallas and Las Vegas. Preferred qualifications include past work as an Apple Genius or Geek Squad Double Agent.
While you can make sound arguments for why this new initiative is smart and strategic, it’s still jarring to watch the same company that wants to pioneer drone delivery and floating warehouses invest in such an in-person experience.
Then again, some of Amazon’s big recent moves — the rollout of a chain of Amazon bookstores and its plan to acquire Whole Foods — seem to be a clear recognition by Amazon that, in some categories, there’s still huge value in translating the customer experience of Amazon.com into the physical world.
If Amazon has success with the in-home visits — as of now, 95 percent of the 551 reviews for the free Alexa consultations are rated five stars — you have to wonder what other services Amazon might think up for an employee that customers trust to be in their homes.
Still, Amazon is playing a bit of catch-up. Best Buy’s Geek Squad has been offering free smart-home consultations as well as similarly-priced paid installations. Best Buy also recently announced that it will be offering Alexa and Google Home demos and tutorials in 700 of its stores.
Startups like HelloTech also play in this space, along with Enjoy, the two-year-old company founded by retail veteran Ron Johnson. Enjoy offers in-house or in-office setups for free on gadgets purchased through its site, but on a smaller selection of items than Amazon.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.