Steve Jobs, in introducing the iPhone in 2007, dissed the use of styluses in favor of using fingers on touchscreen phones. But with the rise of the home as the control center for the connected economy, even tapping a screen may be getting outdated in favor of consumers using their voices.
Eric Turkington, vice president of growth at voice and conversational technology company RAIN, said voice commerce is still in its early days but is quickly picking up steam, especially among fast-moving consumer goods that often comprise repeat purchases.
“Consumers do consistently express a general openness to shopping through voice, and an already sizable portion of the population is doing it,” Turkington said.
According to PYMNTS’ Connected Economy research, 26% of consumers own a device with a voice-controlled assistant, and 30% of all consumers have created shopping lists using voice-activated devices. One-quarter of consumers say they’ve used voice-activated devices to make a purchase, while another 19% haven’t, but say they might.
Still, Turkington noted that voice commerce hasn’t necessarily met expectations over the past several years, even with more consumers consistently at home than ever before in the past 18 months. For example, Juniper Research in 2019 forecast $80 billion in voice commerce by 2023, but last month instead projected that eCommerce transactions via voice assistants will reach only $19.4 billion by 2023. This year is expected to see $4.6 billion in voice commerce.
What could be standing in the way of some voice commerce adoption, Turkington said, is the lack of visual information available when making a purchase, which points to the increased importance for devices with screens, such as Amazon’s Echo Show and the Google Nest Hub Max — as well as Amazon’s new line of TVs announced earlier this month.
“The living room and the TV is going to be a really interesting battleground,” Turkington said, noting that Amazon has placed Alexa at the heart of its business strategy, which PYMNTS’ Karen Webster has also pointed out.
“It’s not just an offshoot that could have been developed by a different company,” he said. “I think the long game of Alexa is partly about the way it can help facilitate purchases through Amazon.”
For example, a general request for batteries would likely default to Amazon Basics, but even specifying a brand would get you an order from the Amazon marketplace. And direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands who create skills, or applications, to sell through Alexa would still use Amazon Pay.
“Basically no matter what, if you’re purchasing on Amazon.com or through a third-party application that lives on Alexa … Amazon’s going to get some benefit from that,” Turkington explained. “But they’ve definitely made their storefront of Amazon.com the most easily accessible through Alexa.”
Amazon also has a leg up on Google’s voice assistant or Apple’s Siri, he said, because of the Seattle-based company’s eCommerce strength. Additionally, Alexa is reported to have a 68% share of the voice AI market.
Absent the availability of visual information, Turkington said brands should be considering how to create a “sonic expression,” such as a jingle or chime when an order is placed, to increase awareness and stay at the top of consumers’ minds.
“Brand salience is diminished in an audio-only context if you don’t have a brand expression that contains those components and if you don’t have a platform that’s going to allow for the expression of those components,” he explained.
Voice commerce will likely become more intertwined with mobile shopping, Turkington predicted, which can also help alleviate some of the issues with an audio-only shopping experience. Already, Alexa and other voice assistants can send links and other information to users’ mobile devices after certain queries.
“I think there’s increasingly a handoff between voice assistants and mobile devices, where some things that may be harder to complete via voice, such as a complex checkout process for the first time … you could do by phone,” Turkington said. “The two are going to end up being more intermingled than they are competing.”