The world’s major retailers and tech giants are fighting for a piece of the voice shopping market. The only question is, is there much to fight over?
Morning Consult published the results of a recent poll that found 33 percent of people who own a voice-activated smart device (like the Amazon Echo or Google Home) actually use it for online shopping. Far more rely on these devices to play music (54 percent) or check the weather (42 percent).
It’s also worth mentioning that, of the 2,220 U.S. adults surveyed, only 20 percent actually said they own a voice-controlled device. Despite this, retailers are betting on voice shopping, bolstered by artificial intelligence, being an important playing field in the years ahead.
Thanks to a new partnership, Walmart shoppers can order their groceries using the Google Home. The companies announced an integration between Google Express and Walmart’s Easy Reorder feature, which essentially allows you to build a list of favorite products that you can quickly repurchase (A.I. also factors in, recommending items for you to include based on recent purchases). Home Depot has also jumped into the fray, announcing it will join Google Express this fall.
Similarly, after recently being acquired by Amazon, Whole Foods products are now available to order via voice from Amazon. Alexa will help you add items to your shopping cart, factors both your order history and popular Prime-eligible products into its recommendations and can offer up various options if, for example, you’re not specific on exactly which brand of paper towels you want to buy.
Each retailer cites the ease and convenience of voice shopping as a major reason why they’re getting in the game. At the same time, each one undoubtedly wants to be where their customers are, and it seems Americans do have a growing curiosity with smart devices. eMarketer predicts “35.6 million Americans will use a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month” in 2017, an increase of 130 percent from one year earlier. The Echo Dot was also Amazon’s top-selling device during last year’s holiday shopping season.
Still, Morning Consult’s research found that 63 percent of the consumers it surveyed – including both those who did and did not own a smart device – preferred to shop in-person, while only 4 percent said they preferred to buy from a smart device.
So, it might still take some work to convince shoppers to trust their shopping to Google or Alexa. As the underwhelmed owner of an Echo Dot myself, I can say I’m personally skeptical of Alexa’s ability to get my grocery order right when she still routinely misunderstands my music requests.
Features like Easy Reorder seem simple enough to use, but there are other aspects to the buying experience that are as-yet unaddressed by voice shopping: comparing prices, checking availability, even reading nutrition facts. As mentioned, Alexa does offer recommendations and pricing information, but not to the depth you could find by doing your own bargain-hunting.
And then there are simple technology limitations: will I need to repeat myself six times for Alexa to understand that I want a jar of spaghetti sauce? If it’s harder to order from a voice-enabled app than it is to shop myself, what’s the point?
Granted, it’s early days. Vendors still have plenty time to work out the kinks and develop voice shopping apps that deliver a quality customer experience. And if both retailers and tech companies can figure out a way to actually make voice shopping simple and intuitive, there’s a chance it can become a key complement (perhaps even a replacement) for the traditional shopping experience.