Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) is eyeing a push into the digital payments market, mulling a peer-to-peer payments platform that would be driven by Alexa, its voice-activated digital assistant.
Citing people familiar with Amazon’s strategy, the Wall Street Journal reported the e-commerce giant is looking at ways to break into a market that is dominated by the traditional players including Visa Inc. (V) and Mastercard (MA) as well as digital payment heavy hitters such as PayPal (PYPL). People familiar with the Seattle, Washington online retailer’s plans told the paper that one idea being considered is enabling consumers to send money to friends via Alexa. The idea is still in its infancy since Alexa would have to be able to access more information about the bank account of the customers to make P2P payments-via-voice a reality.
The potential new feature comes as Amazon is looking for ways to enter the banking and finance markets. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos told staffers last year that entering the financial services market is a major initiative for Amazon. The Wall Street Journal noted the company is currently working to add support for other payment options to Alexa including enabling cars equipped with Alexa pay for gas through voice commands. The company is also exploring ways it can enter the in-store payments market and is in talks with some of the nation’s largest banks about offering a checking type product for customers. (See more: Alexa Comes to Wall Street Thanks to JPMorgan.)
The e-commerce giant has reportedly been looking at ways to get into the finance market for some years now as it seeks to lower the fees it has to pay banks and payment processors. It's not clear how much money Amazon would save, but enabling customers to directly withdraw cash to make purchases will lower those costs. It has also added the Amazon Pay team to the group focused on Alexa inside Amazon as it aims to make payments via voice the next red-hot trend, noted the report. If Amazon does build a P2P payment platform focused on Alexa it could boost loyalty for its voice-activated assistant. (See more: Amazon in Talks to Create Checking Account-Type Product: WSJ.)
While digital payments are all the rage in places like China and India, they have yet to take off in the U.S. As a result, Amazon may not have a huge hit on its hands off the bat, but by getting into the financial market it can gather more data about the shopping and purchasing habits of its customers. It would come at a precarious time for Amazon and other technology companies. With calls rising for more regulation of large tech companies and with President Donald Trump ratcheting up the criticism of Amazon, it may not sit well with some segments of the population if the country’s largest e-commerce player started to disrupt the payments market.