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Virtual Assistants Set to Change the Consumer Journey

Virtual assistants are gaining ground—and changing the way we shop.

New research from eMarketer shows that usage of voice-activated assistant devices has leapt 128.9% over last year.

And not surprisingly, Amazon Echo is dominating the market with a 70.6% share. Part of Amazon’s leverage may come from the frequency with which it rolls out its Alexa-enabled devices. Just two weeks ago it bowed the Echo Look, which added a camera to standard Echo devices to allow them to take selfies and cataloging one’s wardrobe. This week, it’s the Echo Show, which features a screen for video calls and hands-free browsing and functionality.

Following behind is Google Home with 23.8% of the market—though that number is expected to grow. Others like Harmon Kardon and Lenovo represent just a sliver.

“Consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable with the technology, which is driving engagement,” said Martín Utreras, vice president of forecasting at eMarketer. “As prices decrease and functionality increases, consumers are finding more reasons to adopt these devices.”

The company predicts virtual assistant usage will grow by more than 20 percent this year, topping out at 60.5 million monthly users in the U.S. Older millennials, those between the ages of 25 to 34, represent 26.3% of those hooked on this AI technology.

The battle of the virtual assistants may be particularly important because they have the potential to greatly change the way we shop. A recent survey by consumer insights firm Toluna shows they’re already having an impact on U.S. consumers.

According to the report, voice-activated virtual assistants are further curbing shoppers’ trips to physical stores. The poll, which included more than 1,000 consumers, found that more than half (53 percent) make fewer in-store purchases. That number is even higher for millennials specifically, 60 percent of whom make fewer traditional retail purchases. At 94 percent, men are far more likely than women (78 percent) to change their shopping habits as a result of getting a virtual assistant.

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While marketers have been focused on providing in-depth, content rich websites with the understanding that consumers today typically do a lot of research online before making purchases either in-store or via the web, for some, assistants are changing the consumer journey once again. More than half (51 percent) of respondents say they do less research through traditional web browsers since getting their assistants.

This is one reason why Toluna says brands can’t ignore this emerging technology.

“While our research shows that these devices have altered the traditional ways consumers research information, consume media, and purchase products, they also create new opportunities for savvy brands to engage customers,” Frédéric-Charles Petit, CEO and founder of Toluna. “Brands must carefully evaluate how their target consumers are leveraging emerging technology and shape their strategies around those insights.”