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Does it Matter That Virtually No One’s Buying Through Alexa Yet?

Is voice commerce overhyped or actually happening?

A new report from The Information calls into question some of the established findings about voice commerce adoption rates, citing unnamed sources briefed on Amazon’s internal data who claim just 2 percent of Alexa-powered device users have purchased through the digital voice assistant this year. Amazon’s family of Alexa devices currently maintains a head-start over Google Home smart speakers, though the search giant is narrowing the gap. Amazon has sold roughly 50 million Alexa-enabled devices to date, more than 1 million of which were ordered during Prime Day.

Other sources often discuss voice shopping and voice commerce inclusive of smartphones, computers and any device that is voice-enabled, creating an apples-to-oranges comparison. More than $1.8 billion worth of transactions were powered by voice last year, said OC&C Strategy, and of the more than 20 percent of surveyed consumers who incorporated voice into their shopping activities, more than half did so using their mobile phones, according to the Voice Shopping Consumer Adoption Report.

The Information’s sources noted that the vast majority (90 percent) of those who did use Alexa to place an order didn’t re-attempt after that initial effort—perhaps highlighting shortcomings in and challenges around the user experience. They pointed out that consumers interacting with Alexa in the shopping context inquired more broadly, asking about personalized deals or tracking orders with queries like, “Where is my stuff?”

That points to Alexa, and perhaps her Google Home counterpart, as still more useful and practical for mundane weather checks and smart-home control—dimming lights, playing music and more. Even when they do shop via voice, most consumer order or re-order household essentials like toilet paper and laundry detergent, low-risk products that don’t require as much consideration and visual confirmation as apparel or big-ticket items.

Bret Kinsella, editor of Voicebot.ai, expects The Information report will prompt additional findings on Alexa’s commerce usage. “The data doesn’t square well with other consumer studies so I am not quite sure how to interpret it without a little more details about the scope and source of the data,” he said. “The key will be if we see corroborating data points that run counter to consumer self-reporting.”

And according to Voicebot.ai site, there could be several reasons for the discrepancy in the numbers. The “2 percent” is in reference to purchases made so far this year, meaning Alexa speaker owners could have purchased in 2017 or earlier; what’s more, “so far this year” could be a limited time period in 2018, running from January through July or any window in between. Or, he theorizes, perhaps the sources only evaluated transaction data from certain Amazon product categories, skewing overall purchase rates.

An OC&C Strategy forecast expects voice commerce to account for $40 billion in transactions by 2022, up from just $2 billion today.

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