Alexa – Are Americans ready to shop by voice?

Discussion
Source: Amazon
Jul 17, 2019
Tom Ryan

Based on the increased adoption of the devices, eMarketer has raised its forecast for shopping activity on smart speakers. 

The research firm now predicts 31 million U.S. consumers will shop via a smart speaker such as Google Home and Amazon Echo this year, up 31.6 percent from 2018. “Shopping” includes browsing, researching products and adding things to a shopping cart. By 2021, that figure is projected to climb to 38 million when more than four in 10 U.S. smart speakers are expected to be used for their shopping capabilities.

Comparatively, 21 million consumers are expected to make at least one purchase via smart speaker in 2019.

“New users are testing out the shopping-related features of their devices, and early adopters continue to utilize voice to search for products, ask for prices, and more,” said eMarketer senior forecasting analyst, Jaimie Chung, in a statement.

eMarketer noted that a June 2019 survey from Bizrate Insights showed 21 percent of U.S. smart speaker owners had ordered entertainment via their devices compared with the 11 percent who said the same in October 2018. Similarly, 14 percent re-ordered a previously purchased product in June 2019, up from 11 percent in October 2018.

eMarketer still believes the inability to view products is holding back buying. The research firm added that “many smart speaker users are simply uninterested in using their devices for anything other than the tried-and-true functions with which they were meant to assist: news and weather updates, playing music and asking basic questions.”

Other recent smart speaker findings: 

  • Adobe found that 36 percent of U.S. adults owned a smart speaker in February, up from 32 percent in June 2018.
  • SUMO Heavy’s 2019 Voice Commerce survey found only 17 percent of respondents browsed or shopped using a voice assistant. Among heavy users (use daily or weekly), 42 percent have used a voice assistant to shop.
  • The spring 2019 Smart Audio Report from NPR and Edison Research found 58 percent of smart speaker owners worry that hackers could be using their smart speaker to get access to their home or personal information.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Have you become more or less confident that smart speakers will become a major driver of shopping activity? What factors would accelerate or hamper their usage as a shopping tool?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I see smart speakers being used to purchase household supplies, especially by consumers that are already using Amazon Prime to make these purchases."
"Today, brands and businesses need to create content for their products and services to be found through voice commerce."
"Privacy is a big concern here and needs to be addressed before more widespread adoption, implicit in its capabilities, will be realized."

Join the Discussion!

57 Comments on "Alexa – Are Americans ready to shop by voice?"


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Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Shopping and buying the simple stuff by speaker sounds like something I could get used to. But the eavesdropping capabilities of these speakers mean that there won’t be one in my house any time soon.

Meaghan Brophy
BrainTrust
Meaghan Brophy
Senior Retail Writer
1 year 8 months ago

Smart speakers will definitely play a role in the path to purchase, especially as more and more people incorporate them into their homes. I see smart speakers being used to purchase household supplies, especially by consumers that are already using Amazon Prime to make these purchases. However, when it comes to items like apparel, gifts, and decor, shoppers still want to be able to see what they are purchasing.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

This flies in the face of the survey I did with Oracle NetSuite earlier this year of 1,200 consumers and 400 retailers. We found that 95 percent of consumers don’t want to talk to a robot to buy things. Just 5 percent of consumers selected robots and chatbots as the technologies they most want to utilize – that fits well with Amazon but I doubt many others in a substantial way.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Smart speakers are appropriate only for dumb items like paper towels, and they don’t offer a choice of retailers to purchase them from. The MIT Open Voice Network has identified numerous potential problems in ordering from smart speakers…don’t expect to order a dining set from one any time soon.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Cathy, but could you imagine buying that dining room set on your computer or your mobile phone?

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust
Cathy, Let’s remember that it wasn’t that long ago that you couldn’t order even “dumb items” through a computer, let alone your phone. Technology evolves just like people. I remember working with the original “Dragon” voice recognition typing systems longer ago than I care to admit. They were awful, and that’s being charitable, but voice recognition continued to evolve. And as Ben Ball points out, adding video is one more step toward the future of these technologies. It may be a baby step, but it will eventually lead to a powerful stride. As to MIT, it’s true they have identified numerous problems, but that is a prerequisite for creating numerous solutions. You can’t solve technological issues that you haven’t identified. I also think there is a generational element to this discussion. I know many people who view “Alexa” almost as part of their household. Their children engage with their Echo devices as though they were almost invisible friends. And the other day I heard a discussion about the need to teach your children to “thank”… Read more »
Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

This shows what we miss while we are busy reading RetailWire:

Yesterday, Elon Musk announced plans for launching his Neuralink technology — brain implants that he claims will allow disabled people to telepathically control communication devices — very small chips connected to 1,000 wires that measure less than one-tenth of the width of a single human hair connected via Bluetooth to a small computer worn over the ear and a smartphone.

Sort of makes Alexa look like the digital equivalent of your great, great grandmother.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

That would truly be a revolution.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

Bob – you are oriented to in-store and salespeople, so the survey results don’t surprise me, even with Oracle leading. I have no idea how the chatbot/AI questions were oriented and to who. The 400 retail executives skew the survey as well — for all questions about customer experience. And Oracle’s own article said “…AI and VR are not yet the answer.” I do agree with “yet.”

Banking is moving to digital in significant ways and every major bank has or is rushing to deploy chatbots and assistants because customers embrace them for easy/speedy results. Those same people shop, particularly online, so retail will not be exempt from chatbots, intelligent assistants and voice interfaces as the technologies improve. Read my comments below and accept that the genie is out of the bottle and that especially kids growing up with AI/voice assistants will expect it everywhere for everything.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

If I’m oriented to stores and actual people then I guess you’re oriented to tech. No matter how much PR cell providers and payment solution providers give to tech it has serious limitations.

No one craves a bot to buy from. They’ll settle for it.

They may use a bot to schedule appointments really well or make food orders or a million things. The article was about Alexa specifically which many commenters noted was good on unbranded commodities, not “shopping.” I stand by the data in the Oracle NetSuite survey much more than yet another opinion on how no one wants to go to a store, wants everything predicted by AI and the future is only digital.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

For transparency: I did not read the report in order to reply to your comment — I read the summary article that you linked to.

I can’t speak for what you think, but it seems like from your history of views about the store being pretty much the whole ball of wax for consumer commerce, most anything else is secondary or invalid to you. I see the balance of consumer-driven technology and human to human interaction and each having a leading role in specific contexts. You did listen to the recent BrainTrust Live! I did with Georgeanne Bender and heard me say essentially that.

Regarding opinions, you’ve injected many in your comment without facts, especially “yet another opinion on how no one wants to go to a store, wants everything predicted by AI and the future is only digital” which I didn’t say or imply.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

For transparency, I attached my reply to one of Bob’s posts above in error.

And, I concur with you that nobody is saying that AI will rule the world; that there will be no analog functionality left in the universe after … oh … say … October 27, 2021; or that nobody will ever go into physical store in the future.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Just because Bob works with retailers and consumers doesn’t take away from his research, in fact it strengthens it.

Surveys these days are all over the place, and they often contradict one another. You have to wonder how many are manipulated to reach the desired conclusion. The Retail Doctor/Oracle NetSuite survey is sound; the opinions of 1200 consumers should not be discounted.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Thanks, Georganne. Clearly, there are battle lines being drawn between AI/tech and those who look to being more human in an increasingly technological world.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Bob,

I’m really not sure it’s an “either/or” choice. Here are some questions we should all be asking:

“What if technology allows us to become more completely human, i.e., develop in new and creative ways since technology has freed us from routine activity?”

“Is the future of humanity linked to some sort of a “pragmatic singularity” where humanity will be augmented by technology?”

“Can we imagine a store where a human employee’s sole role was to address the needs of the customer because everything else was being done by technologies?”

“Is the line separating technology from humanity really all that clear?”

Last week I was reading about a research team that had developed AI that could be housed in glass. Just think of the retail applications if their ideas pan out — Smart Cases, displays that “learn,” real-time problem solving, and on and on and on.

Whatever it will look like one thing is safe to predict about the future: there will be people in it, and technologies. What that interaction finally looks like is anybody’s guess.