Voice Commerce Holds Promise, Yet Shoppers Are Skeptical

Along with visual search, chatbots, and augmented and virtual reality, voice commerce has been on retailers' radar as the next big thing. None of those emerging technologies—despite varying degrees of consumer adoption—has pulled ahead of the pack, though. 

According to a May 2018 survey by RichRelevance, 30% of US internet users have used a voice assistant to look for product information or purchase products—in other words, shop or buy. Google Assistant (13.9%) and Siri (13.1%) had the highest usage for these activities.

Not surprisingly, younger internet users are more likely to shop by voice than the average. The figures for shopping or purchasing via voice rose to 43.3% among ages those ages 18 to 29 and 38.5% for ages 30 to 44.

While these numbers might seem relatively low, they are higher than eMarketer’s estimates for similar activities. We forecast that 10% of US internet users will research a product or add to a shopping cart using a smart speaker in 2018, while 7.2% will make at least one purchase using a voice command. However, our figures are focused on standalone devices, like Google Home, Amazon Echo and Apple HomePod, and exclude smartphones, tablets or desktops/laptops, which accounts for lower usage.

In what might be a wake-up call to brands, a majority (63.3%) of those polled by RichRelevance said they don't trust any of the voice assistants currently on the market to get voice-assisted shopping right, with the most faith put in Google Assistant (13.2%) and Amazon's Alexa (12.1%). 

While Google had a slight edge over Amazon in perception, consumer attitudes don't necessarily reflect consumer usage. eMarketer estimates that Amazon Echo will have more US users this year than Google Home (40.7 million vs. 18.0 million), and this will still be the case in 2020, when Amazon Echo's user numbers will reach 46.5 million and Google Home’s will hit 25.2 million. Apple’s HomePod, which falls under the "other" category, is the wild card. Its entry came later than Amazon's or Google's, and the device is priced significantly higher than the competition—$349, compared with starting prices of $50 for the Echo Dot and Home Mini.

The crux of the RichRelevance study was determining retail searching behavior. Most respondents used a search a box "often" or "always" when online shopping (79.8%), and 80.8% were satisfied with their search results. The biggest complaints were being shown irrelevant products (28.0%) and not being able to find the product they were searching for (24.1%).

Despite general satisfaction with traditional methods of searching, there is a growing preference for searching via voice rather than typing into a search box, especially among those who already use smart speakers and assistants. According to PwC, voice assistant users favor searching using voice commands (71%) over typing (29%), though shopping at brick-and-mortar retailers, shopping via apps and shopping online were all preferred to shopping by voice