When we visited the topic of voice-enabled shopping last year, it was early days and brands and marketers were just learning of how consumers were starting to turn to their Alexa and Google Home devices to facilitate purchases. We ended that analysis noting that brands and businesses looking to take advantage of the new medium would need to do some significant legwork across their ecosystems to promote the capability to customers and have their products appear properly. While that principle continues to hold true today, much of the landscape around voice shopping has changed materially here in 2019. Let’s dive in.

The Velocity of Voice Shopping Behavior is Accelerating

Last year, The Information stirred up controversy in the voice world by claiming that only 2% of Amazon Echo owners actually used the device to purchase products. However, they also acknowledged Voicebot AI’s 2018 Voice Shopping study which found the amount of voice shoppers to be 26% of smart speaker owners. While there is certainly ambiguity on the exact amount of consumers purchasing through smart speakers, many studies have cited a range of figures with 20% surfacing as an acceptable figure to utilize. More importantly, there are strong signals that this behavior is growing. In December, eMarketer forecast that 27% of consumers will shop using smart speakers in 2019. However, in July of 2019 they raised their estimates and noted the acceleration of shopping behaviors occurring on devices. 

Smart Speakers Voice Shopping
(eMarketer)

 

This is all just the smart speaker side of the story. Voice shopping behavior adoption has actually been noted to be significantly higher through assistants on mobile smartphones. A recent Microsoft Bing Ads study says that 40% of their respondents (2,000 global consumers) have sought to make purchases through their voice assistants on either their phones or smart speakers. Furthermore, they found that “54% of users believe that digital assistants will help them make retail purchases within 5 years”.

State of Voice Shopping_Microsoft Study_Consumers Shopping by Voice
(Microsoft)

 

This high level of engagement with assistants for shopping needs via mobile is accentuated by users who have already begun the behavior. An April 2019 study from SUMO Heavy found that “42% of consumers who regularly (weekly or daily) use voice assistants have shopped using the medium and an Elasticpath survey found that “17% of online shoppers now make voice purchases at least once a month, compared to 11 per cent in 2017”. This data all points to a snowball effect of voice usage begetting voice shopping across speakers and smartphones.

Voice Shopping: Broad Activity, Specific Sales

When it comes to voice, the term “shopping” encompasses far more than just purchasing an item. Voice users are turning to their assistants for many points along their buying journey including product research, price comparison, adding to cart and more. An  Adobe Digital Insights report states that “Nearly half (47%) of smart speaker owners reported using one to initiate product search and research, 43% said they use them for creating shopping lists, and 32% do so for price comparison.” The expectations consumers have for brands’ voice experiences to help service this journey is projected to increase as seen in the chart below from Microsoft

State of Voice Shopping_Microsoft Study_Assistants Enhancing Shopping
(Microsoft)

 

Amid the strong signs of opportunity for fully supported voice shopping journeys, is the current truth that the majority of items being purchased by users are digital products such as music, movies and other media or goods that don’t require a tactile evaluation (i.e. common CPG items consumers are already familiar with and are comfortable reordering). 

State of Voice Shopping_eMarketer_Voice Shopping_Activities
(eMarketer)

 

Underscoring this point is Voicebot AI’s finding in their Voice Shopping Consumer Adoption Report that “over 85% of voice purchases were for $100 or less. Voice is being used for everyday transactions and is not yet viewed as a channel for higher priced items.” 

Despite the reality of today’s voice commerce volume being driven by lower priced everyday items and digital goods, the fact that consumers are already starting to consider the devices as a transactional channel bodes well for the future where brands selling higher-priced items will likely be able to do so more successfully on new devices and experiences that come out. 

Brand Preparation for Voice-First Shopping

With all this growth in commerce through voice, brands have clearly shown an intent to heavy up their investments in an attempt to capture value. In a study of 400 business decision makers, Adobe found that “91% are already making significant investments in voice; 94% plan to increase their investment in the coming year. Brands see incredible potential, with 66% strongly agreeing that voice can help drive conversion and increase revenue; 71% see it improving the user experience.” It’s good timing for brands to ramp up their efforts in the space as Elasticpath’s survey found that 56% of consumers will be expecting Amazon Alexa experiences from all brands in the next year.

However, with all this activity brands will need to make sure they address a few core areas of digital readiness. The first use case that has emerged is customer service. Increasingly consumers are considering voice as a medium to reach companies’ support centers just as they would any other channel. According to Voicebot AI up to 60% of consumers could be interested in utilizing voice-enabled devices to contact customer service departments. Another key area for brands to start thinking deeply about is discoverability and SEO. A recent study done by Uberall found that only 3.8% of businesses currently offered correct information in voice searches. Gaining and maintaining visibility through these platforms will be critical to stay competitive with other products going forward.

State of Voice Shopping_voicebot_consumer-interest-in-customer-service-smart-speaker
(Voicebot AI)

 

Aside from these areas to watch, the larger issue that needs to be addressed lies in trust and privacy. Microsoft’s study found that “41% of users report concerns around trust, privacy and passive listening.” This is a continual story in the press and one that isn’t solely up to brands to solve. However, if brands are building experiences and applications on voice it is best practice for them to be extremely transparent with what user data is being collected and how it is being used as well as providing users some control over these factors. 

What’s Next?

  • The Car. With the race for voice in the car heating up and the many powerful use cases for incorporating a hands-free, geo-data enhanced experience we expect to see commerce increase via automobile voice integrations. 
  • Multimodal. Smart displays and screen-augmented devices are on the rise. While many brands selling products that require physical evaluation or a more visually led product discovery experience have remained on the sidelines of the voice revolution, the growth of multimodal devices and experiences is something we expect to change their mindset in the coming year. 
  • Advertising. Along with an overall increase in voice preparedness through avenues such as experience design, voice SEO, and customer service adaption businesses will likely begin to experiment more with voice-enabled advertising. Early entrants have seen success and this will become another powerful way to boost product discoverability with the voice-first consumer base. Amazon is already exploring this.
  • Point of Sale. In addition to consumers becoming more comfortable utilizing voice assistants at home, we anticipate seeing more experiences brought to them directly in-store. Organizations such as Bottlerocket Wine and Spirits and Sephora have already leveraged voice-enabled devices as a way to drive engagement and assist purchase decisions in the moment at retail locations. 

As we head toward 2020, companies keeping tabs on voice shopping’s maturation should remember that although the usage is increasing, consumer behavior indicates that in the near-term a significant volume of purchases will be smaller monetary amounts and often consist of digital products. However, this may change quickly as familiarity with the voice shopping experience develops and privacy concerns are abated. Savvy organizations and brands will continue to optimize their voice assistant experiences across both mobile and smart speaker surfaces with an eye toward emerging avenues such as the car, point of sale and advertising channels.

Sources:

State of Voice Shopping 2018, RAIN

The Reality Behind Voice Shopping Hype, The Information

Voice Shopping Consumer Adoption Report 2018, Voicebot AI

Amazon Echo Share Will Drop Below Two-Thirds in 2019, eMarketer

Smart Speaker Shopping Gains Traction, eMarketer
2019 Voice report: Consumer adoption of voice technology and digital assistants, Microsoft

The Current State and Future of Voice Commerce, SUMO Heavy

Future of eCommerce, Elasticpath

Study Finds Consumers Are Embracing Voice Services. Here’s How, CMO.com

State of Voice Technology for Brands, Adobe

2019 Voice Search Readiness Report, Uberall

State of In-Car Voice Assistants, RAIN

U.S. Smart Display User Base Grew 558% in 2018 and More Than Doubled in Second Half of the Year, Amazon Holds Two-thirds Market Share, Voicebot AI

How Brands Can Use Voice-Enabled Ads to Enhance Their Message, RAIN

Amazon Tests Audio Ads on Alexa Music, AdAge

Alexa Serves Up In-Store Whiskey Recommendations, Marketing Dive

Google and Sephora Are Bringing Beauty Tutorials to the Newest Home Device, Adweek