business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

I honestly meant to up my game with Alexa, using the voice-activated search assistant for more than today’s weather forecast, my music playlist or to set the cook time for a 20-pound Thanksgiving turkey. I was determined to jettison my hand-written shopping list and embrace the new frontier of e-commerce via a spoken command.

I failed. I’ve never executed such a purchase. And it turns out I am not alone.

A new study found that fewer than one in five consumers have shopped using a voice assistant. Having followed the much-ballyhooed introduction of Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant, I was relieved to learn I’m not the only tech challenged/Artificial Intelligence dinosaur out there.

But the rest of the survey – and the “what’s next” forecast – is more important.

The research from the digital commerce consulting firm SUMO Heavy also found that 42% of frequent voice assistant users have shopped via the medium, smart speakers drive higher levels of voice engagement, and predicted that “we are at the cusp of the voice revolution.”

This confirms other research showing voice activated commerce is poised to take off. Now I realize you’ve heard (and we’ve written) that prediction before. Consumer utilization of voice activated shopping has taken longer than many forecasted when Alexa and the Echo first arrived on the scene in 2014, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Voice activated commerce requires technology and trust. Today some 25% of Americans have a smart speaker device and that number is expected to more than double to 55% by 2022. Amazon commands the smart speaker market with its Echo, Dot and other products, followed by Google Home and then Apple. One strategic consulting firm is predicting that voice shopping will skyrocket to $40 billion-plus in 2022, up from $2 billion today across the U.S. and the U.K.

The trust quotient is more complex, and goes way beyond Echo users’ concerns that Alexa and Amazon employees are eavesdropping on their household. Shoppers need to feel confident that their order is correct, their payment is safe and their delivery confirmed when they place an order. It is a leap of faith to go from an on-screen confirmation of your online order to an assurance from a speaker on the kitchen counter.

The more that Amazon, Google and Apple - along with app developers and participating retailers – have time to implement these programs, the more seamless it will be for the consumer. (As we’ve frequently stated on MNB, it takes years to earn your customer’s trust and one mistake to lose it.) It was just two months ago that Walmart announced it had struck a deal with Google to allow customers order groceries through the Google Home system, escalating its battle with Amazon for the voice-activated market.

It’s like building a house – the more time and thought that goes into the foundation, the sounder the structure will be. And we all know that it almost always takes more time to build any building that predicted or expected. I think that applies to this scenario as well.

Not surprisingly, the survey found that consumers said they see themselves purchasing household products and groceries using a voice-assistant in the very near future.

I wish I had done just that this past Sunday afternoon, when I made my second trip to the grocery store to pick up the one key ingredient I had forgotten to purchase. I could have just asked Alexa.

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