Amazon Expands Alexa's Brain With Yext Business Services

(Bloomberg) -- You can now ask your Amazon Echo speaker, “Alexa, what time does Rite Aid close?” and get hours for the pharmacy closest to your house.

Amazon.com Inc. is adding the hours, addresses and phone numbers of more than 1 million business locations to its Alexa digital-assistant platform so customers can access the information via voice command. The Yellow Pages-ish skill comes through a new partnership with Yext Inc., which supplies business data used in Alphabet Inc.’s Google search engine, Apple Inc.’s Siri digital assistant and Facebook Inc.’s social-media platform.

The pairing announced Wednesday pushes the world’s biggest online retailer -- already a starting point for more than half of all product searches -- deeper into Google’s turf of information searches. The effort emphasizes material based on the user’s location after they enter an address in their Alexa app. No need to drop what you’re doing and look up hours on your smartphone. Yext shares jumped 4.5 percent in early trading in New York Wednesday to $19.80.

Amazon has offered similar information through consumer-review website Yelp Inc. since 2015, which has allowed users to ask, for example, “Alexa, what’s the best Mexican restaurant nearby?” The data from Yext provides more material directly from businesses such as McDonald’s Corp., T-Mobile US Inc. and Rite Aid Corp., which pay Yext to keep their data up to date on the various platforms. Yext data is also used on Yelp, which focuses more on reviews from customers than information supplied directly from the businesses.

Yext manages 30 million facts regarding 1.2 million businesses and locations, Chief Executive Officer Howard Lerman said. So you can ask Alexa, “how many calories are in a Big Mac?” and get an answer. More popular questions are about store hours, locations and phone numbers.

“Amazon better be good at information, too,” Lerman said. “It’s a big strategic beachhead for Amazon.”

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