Are smart speakers limited as a shopping tool?

Source: Amazon
Jun 02, 2017

MarketingCharts staff

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from MarketingCharts, which provides up-to-the-minute data and research to marketers.

New research from comScore shows that shopping-related activities with smart speakers remain fairly limited, though one in six households with Amazon Echo are using them to find local businesses.

For the time being, the most common use cases for smart speakers among households owning these devices are general questions (60 percent), weather (57 percent) and streaming music (54 percent).

By comparison, the (still-limited) shopping-related functionalities are far less mainstream:

  • Some 16 percent are using smart speakers to find local businesses;
  • About one in 10 (11 percent) are using them to order products; and
  • Roughly one in 12 (8 percent) are using them to order food and services.

The comScore data shows that Amazon Echo is almost synonymous with smart speakers, accounting for nine in every 10 currently found in households. Eight percent of U.S. connected homes have a smart speaker — suggesting that Amazon Echo penetration stands at around seven percent of U.S. connected homes (using the rounded market share data above). ComScore said the less-expensive Dot has accelerated adoption.

Smart speakers are active 23 days per month, on average. Homes with smart speakers have an average of 12.8 internet-connected devices, 40 percent more than the average home of 8.5 connected devices.

The data also found that smart speakers may be a gateway purchase to smarter homes. Households that owned an Echo Dot were 3.1 times more likely to own a connected-thermostat, five times more likely to own a connected audio system and 6.4 times more likely to have a connected light system. Over-indexing to a smaller degree for Echo Dot households was ownership of a smart TV, 1.3; streaming box/stick, 1.5; and smartwatch, 2.3.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What role do you see smart speakers playing in driving purchases and in contributing to the overall shopping experience? Will the adoption of connected home tech lead to greater influences on shopping?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"When it all gels in the future, powerful AI voice interfaces will be a mainstay of commerce and Alexa will reign."
"That’s not what home hubs are about — discovery or browsing or any of that. They’re about reordering and convenience."
"Shopping experiences are limited now on smart speakers because connectivity to retailers is complex and not yet widely available. That'll change..."

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10 Comments on "Are smart speakers limited as a shopping tool?"

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Doug Garnett
Doug Garnett
President, Protonik
2 years 3 months ago

I suspect that even these numbers over-state how much shopping use there is for speakers like Alexa. Usually research like this only determines “11 percent used their speaker at least once to shop” … meaning regular and repeat use is lower. Same with ordering food. (However I wasn’t able to review the original report.)

And that all makes sense. Which means retailers shouldn’t get carried away with these devices. The primary focus should be to ensure that speakers are effective for getting your location and hours.

Ken Lonyai

I disagree with the implication of the comScore research. Not knowing what questions were posed exactly, to whom and how, there’s not enough known to draw conclusions.

We’re still in the early days of voice assistants and mainstream adoption of voice interfaces. AI is just scratching the surface (I know, I work on these very projects). Back in 1995, a similar poll could have given these kinds of results about web usage and, for a few years after that, e-commerce. When it all gels in the future, powerful AI voice interfaces (not necessarily “smart speakers”) will be a mainstay of commerce and Alexa will reign.

Amazon absolutely did not create Alexa as a free generic assistant or branding tool — the investment is too big. Don’t be fooled like some competitors are, it’s a device/interface to sell Amazon merchandise.

Dave Bruno
I have done a lot of research into “conversational commerce” and have experimented shopping via Alexa quite a bit. Here are my conclusions (at this point, anyway): Reordering via Alexa represents the “magic of the internet” fully realized. Just tell her what you want — no device, no screen, no typing, no forms — and your desired item shows up on your doorstep two days later. I have already become addicted to reordering that way and as more people adopt the behavior, I believe they will feel the same way. Ordering items for the first time (browsing) is clumsy, awkward and has a long way to go to come anywhere close to the seamless experience of reordering. Add to that the relative lack of transparency surrounding how “Amazon Choice” recommended items and I think adoption of Alexa as a browsing assistant is not imminent. The third element of this discussion that is often overlooked, however, is this: How much better will Amazon’s recommendation engine become once Alexa becomes one of the primary search engines in… Read more »
Jon Polin

Shopping experiences are limited to date on smart speakers because connectivity to retailers is complex and not yet widely available. That will change. One thing consumers always want is increased convenience. When smart speakers enable that in a meaningful way — with the right retailers, broad assortment, accurate conversion of inputs to outputs, etc. — we will see shopping change significantly, especially in high-frequency shopping categories. I happen to know one company today making rapid progress at the center of the smart speaker shopping ecosystem.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)

The benefit to smart speakers is not so much to the shopper but to the vendor. This consumer interface is, in my humble opinion, just a modernized ad with some built-in conversion. I await the addition of user fees in a range of revenue capture models. These issues along with privacy concerns will continue to deter use by all but technophiles and those with no regard for what’s creepy. Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.

Adrian Weidmann

After reviewing the question and statistical results I was actually surprised at how high the usage percentages were. I would have guessed they would be significantly lower than 10 percent. While this technology will be commonplace in the future, it will require another generation of digital natives for Alexa, Echo and others to become welcomed and accepted family members. Not unlike in-store mobile apps where there may be many initial downloads and a single use for curiosity, “smart speakers” will take time for consumers to trust their presence in our homes. The trust extended to this technology will be directly influenced by what is done with all the data that is collected and analyzed. Will it be used to provide the shopper a personal, confidential experience or will it become and intrusion of our privacy and move the creepy needle even further?

Art Suriano

Smart speakers are already changing our daily lives. As technology continues to improve, and the consumer becomes more comfortable using them, I see smart speakers being used for many tasks including purchases. We rely on them today for the simple things as the article states: the weather, playing a particular song, etc., but as we become more confident with them (and some consumers already are) they will be making dinner reservations and, yes, sight-unseen purchases while we’re busy doing something else.

As smart speakers can quickly show us on-screen what we want to see, that too will make them more useful for purchases. We are continuing to see how technology is taking over and there is no stopping it. In just a short time we already have so many inventions and great technological tools that are much better than watching Star Trek. We thought we’d have to wait until the 23rd century.

Nikki Baird
Nikki Baird
VP of Retail Innovation, Aptos
2 years 3 months ago

If mobile conversion is lower than desktop, and most people attribute that to the highly visual nature and ease of use of the desktop experience even as more and more people shop on mobile, how does a completely image-free shopping experience ever hope to hold a candle to it?

That’s not what home hubs are about — discovery or browsing or any of that. They’re about reordering and convenience. “Alexa, turn on the living room lights.” “Alexa, place my favorite Starbucks order.” It’s the maintenance device, not the discovery device.

But retailers should not be complacent, even if that’s the only niche these home hubs occupy. Because the convenience of reordering could lose them a lot of business they depend on today. “Alexa, order more toilet paper.”

Ricardo Belmar

Shopping via smart speakers is ultimately about convenience. Today that equates to re-ordering items or ordering highly commoditized items where brand loyalty is not an issue (e.g. ordering AA batteries). In the future, this will expand to more items available from more retailers and direct to consumer manufacturers. This is because product discovery is much too difficult and time consuming via these devices. It’s much easier to browse on a screen than to listen to Alexa read you options. Over time this will improve potentially via integration with other screens in the home that Alexa could connect to, as well as new devices with built-in screens. Add to this advanced data analytics engines like Amazon’s recommendations, over time these devices will have a pretty good idea what kind of products you like and will be like having a great personal assistant buying for you.

Bottom line is it’s still too early to tell how much influence on shopping these devices will have compared to full in-store experience.

Cate Trotter

Some of the limitations of smart speakers come from the fact that voice is still in the early phases. We’re not used to regularly speaking to our devices and voice-activated applications/technologies are still being refined and developed. I think the more the general public comes around to voice, the more they’re likely to use smart speakers for doing more and more. This includes shopping. That said I think there are always going to be some limits to smart speakers’ use as a shopping tool. For example ordering of food or reordering of products for the home easily translate to voice ordering, but I’m not sure customers would want to shop for clothes in that way.

"When it all gels in the future, powerful AI voice interfaces will be a mainstay of commerce and Alexa will reign."
"That’s not what home hubs are about — discovery or browsing or any of that. They’re about reordering and convenience."
"Shopping experiences are limited now on smart speakers because connectivity to retailers is complex and not yet widely available. That'll change..."

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