Voice Activation

Pandemic Drives Consumer, Business Interest In Voice-Assisted Commerce

How The Pandemic Is Advancing Voice Commerce

Vast numbers of consumers are happy to ask Alexa, Siri or the Google Assistant to play a song, find a recipe or dim the lights in their smart homes. But only a narrow subset of voice assistant enthusiasts would comfortably instruct these tools to make purchases for them – at least before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Last year, PYMNTS’ How We Will Pay Survey found that while an increasing share of U.S. households had voice-enabled devices, only 31 percent used the devices for purchases. Of course, that was before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19.

In a world where physical retail was, by and large, shut down for three months, our consumer surveys have since found that many U.S. consumers have gone digital, and plan to stay that way even after the pandemic eases.

While many consumers believe that buying things online is faster and more convenient, they also find it safer than going to a physical store and risking COVID-19 exposure. And our surveys have found that before returning to brick-and-mortar locations, consumers want to see safety measures that include contactless payment options (favored by 59.7 percent of respondents) and payment methods that don’t require touching a card reader (58.6 percent).

Given those numbers, it seems likely that consumers will have more interest in using voice-activated devices on commerce. For instance, reports are emerging about the expansion of voice technology in hotels and cruise ships. Specifically, many hotels are turning to tech solutions like voice controls to bring customers back in by making them feel more secure.

And as a recent tie-up between Google and French grocery chain Carrefour demonstrates, makers of voice assistants are increasingly seeking to forge relationships with grocery stores. Carrefour and Google announced plans to jointly launch a voice-activated grocery shopping service in France, one of the 30 countries in which Carrefour operates.

“This innovation, developed with Google, will further accelerate the trajectory of eCommerce at Carrefour,” Amelie Oudea-Castera, Carrefour’s executive director of eCommerce, data and digital transformation, said at the time.

Under the initiative, users can link their Google and Carrefour accounts to add items to a shopping list by just saying words like “butter” or “milk,” or other product names or specific brands.

The new capacity comes two years after Carrefour and Google announced a strategic partnership designed around three initiatives, including the availability of Carrefour on a new Google shopping website with Google Assistant in France.

PYMNTS readers looking for similar innovation closer to home can check out Walmart. The retail giant announced a partnership with Apple in late 2019 that allows Siri to help iPhone users manage their grocery lists and arrange purchases. While neither Apple nor Walmart have released any figures on usage rates yet, anecdotal reports suggest that as online grocery orders spiked during the pandemic, so too did grocery-related requests to Siri.

How far will COVID-19 push the use of voice assistants in eCommerce? That remains one of many questions for which we’ll be seeking answers as the post-pandemic recovery rolls on.



The September 2020 Leveraging The Digital Banking Shift Study, PYMNTS examines consumers’ growing use of online and mobile tools to open and manage accounts as well as the factors that are paramount in building and maintaining trust in the current economic environment. The report is based on a survey of nearly 2,200 account-holding U.S. consumers.