The electronic commerce revolution shifting sales from stores to laptops and smartphones could be on the verge of its evolution — where shoppers ask Alexa, Siri, chatbots and other voice-driven speakers to order just about everything – voice commerce.
Purchases made through devices such as Google Home and Amazon’s Echo are projected to leap from $2 billion to $40 billion by 2022 as technology improves, US consumers become more comfortable and the speakers become nearly as commonplace in homes as a flat-screen TV, according to a new study from OC&C Strategy Consultants.
“We really see this as the next big disruptive play in U.S. retail,’’ says John Franklin, associate partner at OC&C, which surveyed 1,500 smart-speaker owners in December .
The smart-speaker space is one in which many tech giants want to play. Though Amazon and its digital helper, Alexa, have come to define the niche, Google Home and its Google Assistant are second in popularity. Apple began shipping its Siri-assisted HomePod smart speaker in February. Microsoft’s “Cortana” is also part of the mix.
For now, the most popular use of voice-driven speakers is to play music or find out whether to take an umbrella when heading out the front door, OC&C says.
But as virtual assistants can turn up a thermostat and even rattle off jokes, voice-driven speakers are at the centre of a budding universe of AI-connected devices that include bathroom mirrors, door locks and TV monitors. Smart home product sales are expected to total $4.5 billion this year, up 34% from 2017, according to the Consumer Technology Association.
There are hurdles that could slow down how quickly shoppers take to voice shopping— and how lucrative voice-based purchases are for retailers.
It can be difficult to compare prices when ordering via speaker, and customers often have to use specific wording such as “OK, Google” when launching their transactions.
For retailers, OC&C found that the tally from voice orders isn’t typically as high as purchases made online. Shoppers are more apt to buy cheaper items, such as phone charger cables, via voice. The average online basket was $661 for online purchases of electronics, compared with $239 for voice orders, OC&C said.
Then there’s the matter of trust. Among shoppers who don’t make purchases through a smart speaker, less than half, 45%, say they would trust the device to recommend the best reviewed products.
Among those who do shop via voice, 83% say they have confidence in the virtual assistant’s suggestions — signaling that once consumers try the new way of summoning goods and services, they often like it.
Those numbers give “us confidence this isn’t simply a fad but is a meaningful channel that will continue to disrupt retail over the next five years and beyond,” Franklin says.