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Adoption of Screen-Based Smart Speakers Could Signal Good News for Voice Shopping

There’s one thing holding back voice commerce, but smart speaker purchasing trends could signal changes afoot.

Voicebot.ai’s Smart Speaker Consumer Adoption Report March 2019 looked at growth trends around voice-activated speakers and voice assistant usage on smartphones during 2018 and found strong uptake of devices with built-in displays—an important feature that could bring voice shopping into the mainstream.

Of all 18 smart speaker use cases that Voicebot.ai asked survey takers about, shopping by voice was the least utilized. However, the amount of people who engage in voice commerce at least once a month rose to 19 percent in 2018 from 13.6 percent in 2017—39 percent growth. The report stressed that voice commerce is defined as actual transactions and not simply researching products, which 28 percent of people with smart speakers do monthly and 40 percent have tried at least once. “These are figures that are increasingly difficult for consumer brands to ignore,” the report said.

As of January of this year, 3.9 percent of smart speaker owners claim they use their device to make a purchase every day.

Another 22.6 percent use their smart speakers to find out the store hours for a retailer nearby. But brands should really take notice of the 31.4 percent—or 20 million—people who think voice-activated speakers could be a useful medium for customer service. The upside of providing basic FAQ-type info through a smart speaker is a lower volume of inbound queries at call centers, though companies could always connect someone to a more capable channel when an AI-powered system has exhausted its limits, the report noted.

“This could be a significant opportunity for customer service departments to increase customer satisfaction and help them resolve issues more quickly,” Voicebot.ai added.

Perhaps encouraged by a growing awareness of these technologies, American consumers showed a willingness to experiment with digital voice assistants on their smartphones. At the dawn of 2018, just more than half (56 percent) of people with embedded assistants on their mobile phones had used them, a figure that climbed to 70.2 percent by January of this year. Alexa, Amazon’s AI voice system, is responsible for more than half of that growth, as the number of people experimenting with the voice assistants on their phone leaped 128 percent. Voicebot.ai attributes the growth to the arrival of a voice activation button in the Alexa app; previously, people could only voice search with Alexa in the search bar in the Amazon app.

Though first usages of the on-phone Google Assistant rose just 16 percent, Voicebot.ai believes this is because the voice system’s current user base is fairly large, meaning growth will be relatively low and slow. By contrast, trials of Samsung’s Bixby digital voice assistant jumped 57 percent.

One of the common criticisms of voice-activated technology is the uncertainty of navigating by speaking alone without visual confirmation of where a query can take you—and this is especially concerning when it comes to voice shopping. Amazon’s Echo Show bridges the gap between voice and visual with the Echo Look, Echo Show and Echo Spot voice-based devices that each feature a built-in display.

Sales trends show people seem to agree that voice plus visual is a winning combination. Just 2.8 percent of smart speaker owners had a screen-based device when Amazon launched the Show and more compact Spot in 2017.

That changed when several device manufacturers debuted Google Assistant products with screen displays in 2018. Ownership in this particular category of smart speakers skyrocketed 558 percent, from 1.3 million to 8.7 million devices, the report found. Given its early lead in this niche, Amazon Alexa commands two-thirds of the smart-screen-and-speaker device market, while Google owns the remaining third, the report noted.

Consumers might have questions and concerns about smart speaker ownership and privacy but that’s not standing in the way of purchasing these devices, according to the report. For example, 27.7 percent of those who don’t own one of these devices express such concerns, compared with the 21.9 percent of speaker owners with the same hang-ups. Those with very strong concerns about a smart speaker’s security risks are 16 percent less likely to own one of these devices, despite making up a “sizable proportion” of users, the report found.

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