Smart speakers are taking over — but retailers might not be benefiting

  • The percentage of customers in the United States who say they have a smart speaker has risen to 20% this year, according to a study by financial-services firm Synchrony.
  • That’s double the percentage of consumers who said they had a smart speaker just a year ago.
  • According to some reports, however, retailers aren’t seeing the boon they were hoping for with voice shopping enabled by smart speakers.

Smart speakers are becoming more popular in the United States.

According to a survey by financial-services firm Synchrony, the percentage of customers who say they own a smart speaker has doubled from 10% in 2017 to 20% in 2018. That growth is primarily from older millennials, who are more likely than any other generation to own the smart devices, the study found.

1,255 people responded to Synchrony’s survey.

The growth in smart speakers has launched a major retail battle among America’s largest tech brands and retailers. Amazon has invested heavily in making Alexa the most popular voice-operated assistant in the hopes that customers will use it to buy things with their voice. Google has partnered with major retailers like Target and Walmart to do the same.

Still, nobody’s quite sure that voice will actually become the next frontier of online shopping in the way that it’s hoped to be. The ubiquity of the devices doesn’t appear to have led to an increase in sales done with the devices. A report from the Information, which cited internal documents from Amazon, said that only 2% of customers who own Alexa-enabled devices have actually used it to make a purchase at least once.

Of those 2%, only 10% of those who used it once came back to use it again, indicating that they either used it as a novelty or that they weren’t quite pleased with the experience.

Amazon now might be signalling that it has all but given up on voice shopping. During Amazon’s quarterly earnings call on July 26, the company’s head of investor relations, Dave Fildes, said that people were “enjoying” the company’s Alexa-powered devices, but he didn’t directly address its role as a voice-shopping service.

“I think we’re having a lot of success with devices and customers are enjoying those,” Fildes said in response to an analyst’s question about the impact that Alexa is having on Amazon’s retail business.

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