Smart speakers are popular things these days. In fact, these devices are not your regular popular cool thing: these are commonly referred to as one of the fastest-growing segments in the consumer technology market and the next big thing since smartphones.
A lot of things make smart speakers great, namely the way they changed how we interact with technology. That leads to a major question mark looking down at businesses: how does this shift in user behavior reflect on the shopping experience they offer? Have businesses adjusted the way they sell their products and services for a voice-first approach?
We’ve decided to dig deep and find out if people are actually using smart speakers for purchasing, and how exactly are they leveraging voice technology when it’s shopping time. Disclaimer: expect a lot of numbers.
The size of the market
First, here are some general numbers for smart speakers. According to Voicebot’s Smart Speaker Consumer Adoption Report 2019, there were 133 million units in January 2019 in the United States. The joint report from NPR and Edison Research offers a more conservative estimate with nearly 120 million smart speakers in U.S. households – a 78% year-over-year growth. Canalys estimates there’ll be 207.9 million devices by the end of 2019 – an 82.4% year-over-year growth.
Numbers vary, as expected, but still offer valuable insight into the scope of the market. As for voice shopping, what immediately grabs attention is how little people opt to purchase via a smart speaker.
Voice commerce is yet to take off
Voicebot’s report shows purchasing with a smart speaker is among the least use cases, with 26.1% of people doing so. Furthermore, 15% of the people do that monthly, while 3,9% do it on a daily basis. The somewhat surprising low frequency of use cases is countermanded by growth in monthly active users during 2018, which rose 10.5% from 13.6% to 15.0%.
According to Dashbot.io survey that focused on how consumers really use Alexa and Google Assistant, the most common transaction (83%) was a purchase through the underlying platform, either ordering or reordering items, as both voice assistants enable shopping through their e-commerce platforms (Amazon and Google Express). Food delivery was another popular transaction with more than half of respondents ordering food.
Age-wise, the 35 to 44 group had the highest percentage of previous purchases at 56%. The two other age groups on either side – 50% of ages 25 to 34 and 46% of ages 45 to 54 – had relatively similar results in purchases through Amazon’s and Google’s devices.
Voice Shopping Consumer Adoption Report (once again from Voicebot) found that voice shopping characteristics were very similar to other online practices. Everyday household items, apparel, and entertainment such as movies and music were at the top of the list, with games as the only category that was relatively on par with the familiar trends of online shopping.
The research angle is booming
What’s really big with smart speaker users is the role of voice assistants in the overall shopping experience. 41.2% used devices at least once to search for product info, while 27.8% say they are using smart speakers monthly for product search.
The CouponFollow survey found that 45% of millennials (those born between 1982 and 1996) use voice assistants while shopping. While that doesn’t necessarily mean using them for all of their shopping requirements (research, discovery, etc.) or directly purchasing by voice, it’s a strong signal of general helpfulness of voice technology during the entire shopping process. Google Assistant was the most popular voice assistant for shopping-related research at 24% followed by Apple Siri at 19% and Amazon Alexa with 18%.
This makes an interesting debate: is voice-assisted product search more impactful than voice-triggered purchasing? The fact that voice assistants are growingly popular tools for search (both in general and shopping terms) that often drives a purchase should tip the scales in the former’s side but one thing is certain: businesses need to have a voice strategy in place, and fast, in order to make their products and services “visible” via voice.
Gender and shopping preferences
Broken down by gender and shopping preferences, here is what data from the December 2018 eMarketer Ecommerce Survey conducted by Bizrate Insights showed:
- 20% browsed products,
- 18% asked for product recommendations,
- 13% ordered movies, TV shows, music, etc.,
- 10% ordered electronic devices and
- 8% ordered groceries or household items.
- 14% browsed products,
- 15% asked for product recommendations,
- 14% ordered movies, TV shows, music, etc.,
- 6% ordered electronic devices and
- 6% ordered groceries or household items.
In addition, a consumer survey from First Insight showed smart speaker shopping aligns more with male buying behaviors. Usage of smart speakers for researching product prices jumped 17% for men to 70% in 2018, while women stayed roughly the same as in 2017 at 46%. That goes in line with Dashbot.io’s data that says that the percentage of men who have made purchases is almost double that of women – at 58% and 32% respectively.
It would be safe to say consumers are fairly restrained when it comes to shopping via smart speakers. Such attitude and behavior are perfectly understandable, seeing as voice commerce is a fairly new use case that needs some getting used to. However, the constant growth is telling of the overall usefulness and helpfulness of voice-driven shopping.
The growth in smart speaker ownership is a good indicator of the vast utility of voice technology, particularly of the voice assistants that power these smart devices. There are still kinks to sort out, primarily the discovery side as both the general browsing (as a research tool) and possibilities (discovering what exists on voice and how to access it) are challenges in a voice environment.
Looking at it from a different angle, that’s why reordering with voice works well – it can be done quicker and in a more straightforward manner.
All of the data highlights that smart speakers are already a part of the shopping process. As for how much that part will grow depends on how soon companies realize there’s a need for a strategic approach to voice. There’s plenty of room.