The number of people using conversational AI tools, such as voice assistants, is growing. Adoption will continue to expand among consumers and companies as the AI industry figures out how to address privacy and ethical concerns.

What are voice assistants?

Voice assistants are intelligent software that responds to voice commands and can run on any device, including smartphones, speakers, desktop/laptop computers, tablets, wearables, gaming consoles, TV consoles, virtual reality (VR) headsets, cars, and internet of things (IoT) devices. Examples include Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, and Microsoft’s Cortana.

Voice assistant users

This year, 123.5 million US adults will use voice assistants at least once per month, and that base will continue to increase over the next few years. The number of voice assistant users will continue creeping up to nearly half the US adult population. We expect just over 48% of US adults will be monthly users of this technology in the next three years, despite user growth slowing through the end of our forecast period in 2025.

Not surprisingly, younger millennials are the most likely to use a voice assistant. We forecast that nearly two-thirds of 25- to 34-year-olds will be monthly voice assistant users this year. This figure drops below 50% among Gen X (ages 42 to 57) and sits just under 30% for baby boomers (ages 58 to 76).

Voice assistant market share

Consumers are mostly likely to use smartphones and smart speakers to access voice assistants. In 2022, 42.7% of adults will use a smartphone to interact with voice assistants each month. Meanwhile, 32.2% will use a smart speaker as often. Almost all adult voice assistant users are using the conversational AI tech on a smartphone (91.0% this year).

In the US smart speaker market, Amazon is the clear leader. Nearly 64 million people in the US were monthly users of Amazon Echo last year, more than double those of Google Home, per our estimates.

Echo devices are set to lose share as the number of smart speaker users continues to rise. Their share will drop from 68.1% of smart speaker users this year to 67.0% in 2025, while other players like Apple and Sonos grow. We also expect users to own more than one brand of voice-controlled device as the market expands.

Top voice assistant activities

Among US voice assistant users surveyed by CouponFollow in April 2021, browsing and searching for products were the top shopping activities they conducted using the technology. But less than a quarter of respondents said they make purchases via their voice assistant.

When US adults do make a purchase via smart speaker, it is likely to be in the health and beauty category or for electronics, according to a study conducted between August 2019 and August 2021 by Comscore Plan Metrix Multi-Platform.

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Consumer interest in voice shopping services is low. As of December 2021, about half of US adults had not used such services and were not interested in doing so, according to our ecommerce survey with Bizrate Insights. However, companies are forging ahead with plans to provide voice shopping tools to customers.

Walmart acquired Botmock, a conversational AI startup, and has partnered with Google, letting customers add items to their virtual shopping cart through Google Assistant and learning about their shopping habits in the process. Target and Carrefour also struck such deals with Google, while Ocado partnered with Amazon to create a similar experience through Alexa.

Looking ahead, as voice shopping becomes more ubiquitous and brands learn to better engage new users, consumer interest has the potential to grow.

Voice assistant privacy concerns

Privacy concerns, along with customer dissatisfaction with the experience, have led to slower adoption. After the adult user base rose by 11.8% in 2020, it increased by only 2.9% in 2021. Growth will decelerate further this year, to 2.6%.

There is no question that consumers will fully embrace these technologies only when privacy and security issues are addressed. Firms that are developing the technologies, as well as the clients utilizing their tools, need to be transparent about their privacy policies and actively build those standards into the technology.

According to the internal Amazon data, for years the company had seen 15% to 25% of Alexa users drop off about two weeks after activating their device. Amazon has cited consumers’ privacy concerns as one of the main reasons that retention is falling.

Apart from bias and ethical issues, privacy and security concerns remain a major hindrance to wider adoption of conversational AI technologies. When CouponFollow asked for the drawbacks of shopping via voice assistant, roughly one-third of US adult internet users cited data security risks and data tracking, the two leading responses in the study.

Accessibility and privacy are not negotiable. Improving machine learning models requires lots of personal data. Brands that collect data for these purposes should be transparent with customers and clearly differentiate this data from that which is sold to advertisers, so that users can make informed decisions.