Americans using voice devices monthly: 35.6M
Annual growth in engagement: 129%
Amazon's market share in voice devices: 70.6%
Major competitors: Google (Home), Apple (Siri), Microsoft (Cortana)
Alexa, can you help me make a sale?
Voice is taking off and retailers are already scrambling to cash in. In May, eMarketer released a forecast estimating that 5.6 million Americans will use a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month this year, a 129% jump over the previous year. EMarketer also estimated that Amazon’s Echo speaker will attract 70.6% of users, while Google Home will garner 23.8% and smaller players, such as Lenovo, LG, Harmon Kardon and Mattel will make up the rest of the market.
Projected U.S. Users of Voice-Enabled AssistantsData from eMarketer
Meanwhile, a separate study from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners reports that about 10.7 million U.S. Amazon customers currently have an Amazon Echo device, with the Echo Dot now representing about 52% of all Echo devices in the market and the original Echo accounting for about 36%, according to the report. Along with an early grab for device market share, Amazon has added thousands of skills to the Alexa voice assistant platform, far outpacing its rivals in the space, and has launched programs to expand that number through its developer community.
For its users, Echo and Alexa bring news, music, help them run their digital lives and, as smart homes come online, their appliances. For Amazon, the voice technology can bring new sales and could deepen — perhaps to the most dramatic degree yet — its relationship with customers, particularly Prime members.
“It’s dangerous," Keith Anderson, VP of strategy at Profitero told Retail Dive in July. "It’s so much easier than pulling your phone out of your pocket, unlocking it, pulling up the app, making a product search, and ordering it. Even with one-click ordering, there’s eight more steps involved. It’s much easier to stand up wherever you are in the room and just say, 'Alexa, purchase more paper towels.'"
Along with the convenience, Alexa can also keep customers immersed in Amazon’s shopping platform and ecosystem. "Retailers like Best Buy and Walmart sell products that have Alexa in it," Jason Goldberg, senior VP of content and commerce at SapientRazorfish, told Retail Dive earlier this year. "So you go to Best Buy and you buy an Alexa, but when you say 'hey Alexa, buy me more printer ink,' she’s buying it from Amazon, not Best Buy." No wonder Amazon was pushing its Echo devices hard on Prime Day.
Amazon releases first Echo devices alongside its Alexa platform
Amazon releases Echo Dot
Google Home release
Starbucks launches voice ordering on iOS and Alexa
Google introduces voice shopping at Costco, Walgreens and other retailers
Alexa can place Prime Now orders
Amazon releases Echo Look
Peapod launches voice ordering on Alexa
Amazon considers granting third-party developers access to Alexa transcripts
Walmart and Google partner on voice shopping
Home Depot chooses Google Home for voice shopping
The history of voice technology in retail since the Echo
An ever-present, all-knowing, Jeeves-like voice assistant with seamless buying capabilities that doubles as a DJ is great for Amazon, less so for other retailers. That could explain why other heavy hitters — including Walmart, Home Depot, Walgreens and Costco, among others — are teaming with Google to allow voice shopping via Google Home.
For all its promise for retailers, there are still plenty of questions hanging over the technology. Privacy concerns abound, as the voice assistants are always listening to and recording users as they wait to fulfill their every whim. They’re watching too. Of course, there are plenty of things that the technology still can’t do, which makes voice in general, and Alexa in particular, even more compelling as a technology to watch.