Is voice shopping poised for takeoff?

By Matt Lang, Strategy Director and Will Hall, Chief Creative Officer of Rain

When we visited the topic of voice-enabled shopping last year, we concluded 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.

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 number of voice shoppers to be 26% of smart speaker owners. While there is certainly ambiguity on the exact number of consumers purchasing through smart speakers, many studies have cited a range of figures with 20% surfacing as an acceptable figure to utilize.

Smart speaker shopping is growing

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.

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”.

Voice shopping: Broad activity, specific product sales

Number of voice shoppers growing

When it comes to voice, the term “shopping” covers 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.”

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).

How consumers use smart speakers

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.”

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 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.” However, with all this activity, brands will need to make sure they address a few core areas of digital readiness.

The first area 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 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 staying competitive with other products going forward.

Consume interest in smart speakers

The larger issue that needs to be addressed is trust and privacy. Microsoft’s study found that “41% of users report concerns around trust, privacy and passive listening.” So it is best practice for brands 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.

Voice shopping finding its voice

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.

Matt Lang
Matt Lang
Will Hall
Will Hall

Authors of this guest post are Matt Lang, Strategy Director and Will Hall, Chief Creative Officer at RAIN, a pioneer in voice and conversational AI for leading brands including Nike, Campbell Soup Company, NFL, Marriott, and Sesame Street.