How can retailers exploit the growing demand for voice

Since Amazon launched its first Echo device in September 2016, we have seen rapid growth in adoption of digital voice assistants. In July 2017 only 7% of households had one of these devices. That now stands at 25%, with Savvy’s research suggesting 20% of households have an Amazon Echo, 6% a Google Home and 4% another device. While older generations find the idea of speaking to a machine slightly awkward, such hesitancies do not exist among their younger counterparts. In part, this helps explain why household adoption of voice assistants among millennials stands at 40%.

I expect ownership will continue to rise over quickly over the next 12-24 months. In large part this is because the pace of product innovation is immense. Both Amazon and Google continue to launch new products benefiting from improved features and more appealing aesthetics. And because the artificial intelligence that powers these devices is cloud based, their accuracy and performance improves all the time. The fight for market share between Amazon and Google will not only ensure there is not let up in the pace of innovation, but will also ensure devices are priced highly competitively. Consider some of the price reductions seen during events like Black Friday and Prime Day during the year. Another important boost of ownership is emerging as a result of the integration of the technology into other devices. Cars, home appliances and consumer electronics are already shipping powered by Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, and this month Amazon announced the launch of its Alexa enabled microwave. It’s fair to say that these devices will soon become ubiquitous.

User adoption of the technology is only part of the equation however when it comes to unlocking the potential of these devices for retailers and brands. Commercial application will ultimately be shaped by creativity, content and features. At present users we speak to are broadly uninspired.

When asked how owners of voice assistants are currently using them, the response was dull. Topping the list of uses is checking the weather, mentioned by 76% of voice assistant owners, while 68% have used one to play music. Of more relevance to retailers and brands, 40% have asked about a store’s opening hours and 36% have ordered something to be delivered.

Also as part of Savvy’s research we asked the whole adult shopper population what they would like to be able to do using voice assistants – and this is where it get more interesting. 55% of all shoppers said they like the idea of being able to access food recipes, 52% would like access to product reviews and 45% want to be able to get recommendations for local places to eat and drink. Their expectation is that retailers and brand are falling short of their expectations when it comes to the availability of genuinely useful skills and features.

Now is the time for brands and retailers to take the opportunity seriously, gain insights to understand how voice fits in the path to purchase and develop a voice strategy that genuinely solves shopper and consumer problems, placing their needs ahead of brand objectives.

Like the way the smartphone has become a ubiquitous point of digital inspiration and conversion, voice has the potential to take this to the next level, offering a totally hands-free touchpoint in the consumer’s home, right at the point of consumption. And, as the technology is integrated into more and more vehicles, devices and appliances, its use and possible applications will explode.