Do brands need to worry about voice shopping?

by Nigel Hollis | January 07, 2019

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about smart speakers being the new radio and referenced an article on Recode that suggested people were less likely to skip ads. However, the article also presented some interesting findings about the use of smart speakers for shopping that makes me wonder how many brands really need to worry about shopping by voice.

As I have noted elsewhere, voice shopping brings a whole new challenge, particularly for smaller players trying to get established in the marketplace. Assuming that someone specifies which brand they want, a huge assumption, then salience is going to bias the choice to well-known, incumbent brands. And in a voice-first world, the first brand to be chosen in a category will have the advantage of inertia on its side for years to come.


But just how prevalent is voice shopping likely to be and which brands need to worry about it the most? The Recode article suggests that, as of now, people are not shopping till they drop on smart speakers. Far from it, the article suggests that one in five smart speaker users have ever made a purchase using their device and regular usage is far less than that. Data from a survey by Voicebot suggests that most people prefer to shop at physical stores and only a fraction would prefer voice.

Of course, that preference is highly likely to change with experience and product category. Quoted in the Recode article, Google Director of Product Management and Hardware Micah Collins, states,

“I think shopping is still very early days, especially for voice-only products. Shopping is predominantly a visual and tactile experience.”

Like Collins I find it difficult to believe that people will buy shoes, clothes, or household electronics and durables without at least looking at what they are about to buy. And that, of course, ignores all the other attractions of shopping in stores, including physical interaction with goods, advice from store staff and just the fun of a day out with friends.

Instead, voice shopping is likely to be most prevalent for familiar, routine purchases. According to Digitas, 85 percent of virtual voice assistant purchasers say they’ve purchased the first brand offered by their device, rather than the specific brand they initially requested. So as if the advent of direct-to-consumer brands was not enough of a challenge, now consumer packaged goods brands need to worry about how to incentivise Alexa to make a sale for them.

If traditional packaged goods brands are not to be totally commoditised by the shift to voice shopping then they will have to work even harder at building predisposition and attitudinal loyalty to overcome the lure of choosing what an assistant first offers. Again, scale will be a factor, big brands are more likely to be available and suggested, smaller brands are going to have to figure out how they disrupt that in-built advantage.

But what do you think? Is voice shopping going to be universal? What might you buy? Please share your thoughts. 


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  1. Phil Herr, January 07, 2019

    If you ask Alexa to order something like batteries, Amazon will ship their brand. So anytime a category can be reduced to its generic, Amazon will pre-empt the sale. All the more reason to overcome commoditization.


  2. Nigel, January 07, 2019
    A recent stat issued by Amazon suggests that use of Alexa more than tripled this holiday season compared to last. However, stats from Business Insider would suggest that the proportion of shoppers making a purchase by voice is still pretty low. 

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