Consumers’ Adoption Of Voice Assistants Doubled In Q1 – Here’s Why

Brick-and-mortar businesses must consider enabling a voice experience with their product or service offerings or risk falling behind to their competitors, says Park Assoc. Analyst Dina Abdelrazik.

The use of artificial intelligence-based voice assistants is growing rapidly, thanks the consumer interest in “smart home” devices offered by Amazon, Google, Samsung, Apple, and others.

That in turn has fueled the rise of voice search and changed the way consumers connect with local businesses and services.

About 12 percent of consumers surveyed by tech consultancy Parks Associates say that they used smart speakers with voice assistants during Q1 — more than double what that adoption rate was a year ago. (Incidentally,Dina Abdelrazik, Research Analyst, at Parks Associates, tells GeoMarketing that consumers may be over-estimating that usage a bit. More on that below.)

“In the past five years, voice control and voice-based technologies have experienced massive growth in the consumer market, igniting the competitive landscape among current and emerging smart home players,” said Dina Abdelrazik, Research Analyst, Parks Associates. “Voice interfaces are advancing due to continued improvements in machine learning and natural language processing, paired with the prevalence of portable devices. Apple increased consumer familiarity of voice control with its introduction of Siri in 2011, but the later-to-market Amazon Alexa has taken a clear lead in this category.”

GeoMarketing: The report notes that the “adoption rate of smart speakers with voice assistants grew from 5 percent of U.S. broadband households in Q4 2015 to 12 percent in Q4 2016.” What accounted for that sharp jump?

Dina Abdelrazik: Amazon saw immense success with the Echo, often citing it as one of the hottest products during the holiday season on Amazon made a huge marketing push, and Google’s launch of the Home product – while not selling nearly as many as the Amazon line – only increased awareness of the product category.

These products are designed to provide the convenience in voice assistance and the multifunctional ability in performance of various tasks such as playing music, adding events to a calendar, and placing an order, all hands-free.

However, while consumers reported adoption of smart speakers with voice assistants at 12 percent, we believe this figure to be slightly high. Due to the nature of consumer reported data, these figures should be interpreted with the understanding that figures are subject to respondents misunderstanding the question or misreporting the devices or applications they own. Our estimate is that adoption of smart speakers with voice assistants is between 10 and 11 percent in Q1 17.

How much of that can be attributed to Alexa? And are there any expectations for this year, particularly with the introduction of Google Assistant and the marketing of Google Home?

Amazon’s Echo, Tap, and Dot devices certainly make up the vast majority of market share currently. However, we can expect the competitive landscape for voice assistants to continue to rapidly evolve. Samsung’s recent introduction of Bixby for instance, brings another competitor to the fold. I suspect that Google Home and Amazon Echo devices will not be among the few smart speaker options in the market for long, with possibly Samsung, Microsoft, or Apple seeking to build on the Amazon Echo’s success.

Where does Apple’s Siri fit into the current market, particularly with the latest improvements in iOS 10.3? Did it lose its way after being among the most recognizable voice assistants?

Apple’s Siri was the first personal assistant to market, differentiating Apple products and establishing itself as the brand example for all personal applications. However, since its introduction new entrants such as Amazon Alexa, Microsoft Cortana, and Google Assistant have ignited the competitive landscape. Siri is still one of the most recognized assistants, our data shows that it still takes the lead ahead of its competitors in terms of consumer reported usage of voice-based personal assistant applications. Our data shows that 50 percent of iPhone users use Siri. By comparison, only 22 percent of Windows phone users use Cortana. However, that does not mean that Siri is the best voice assistant in the market. Its latest updates have helped to improve the “smarts” but voice assistants still have a long way to go in terms of cognitive and contextual understanding.

While the report notes the delineation between entertainment and smart home, where does commerce fit in?

Voice assistants can improve user’s shopping experience, streamline business operations, and create a stickier customer through engagement. However, when ordering items through a voice assistant, devices like Google Home may struggle without a screen. Consumers will use voice-first devices such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home to order familiar items or to repeat routine purchases, rather than evaluate a new topic or make a completely new purchase.

While e-commerce, particularly on Amazon via Alexa, seems like a natural use, how well can local brick-and-mortar businesses such as retailers and restaurants capitalize on voice assistants as a “shopping discovery” tool? Have those uses emerged?

Retailers and restaurants have already started to capitalize on the momentum of voice assistants in the consumer market. Given the current market opportunity, businesses must consider enabling a voice experience with their product or service offerings or risk falling behind to their competitors who do offer such an experience. Many businesses have already done so, often choosing to do so through Alexa with a custom skill.

Voice assistants can improve the user experience by establishing new relationships with their customers, provide customer support, offer information about a retailer’s hours, or even replace the in-store sales experience. If a shopper can’t find an associate on the floor of a retail location, he or she can pull out their smartphone and ask their voice assistant the same thing they would ask an in-store associate. Uniqlo, is one such store, working with Mindmeld’s conversational AI to improve the in-store sales experience.

Another use case is the ability to order food or other items from a retail location as you’re walking down the street or driving to the location. Starbucks for example, at the end of last year announced an initiative to enable their mobile app with the ability to order from the application just as you would a barista. So now customers can place an order with their voice, not having to fiddle with scrolling through an on-screen ordering process when they are trying to catch a coffee on your drive to work.

Marriott and other hotels are looking to voice assistants as a perk for hotel guests, aiding in things like room service, cleaning service, checkout and other amenities. How important do you think voice assistants will be in the travel/hospitality category? Do you see any other business categories adopting voice assistants (such as retail?)?

Using voice assistants to book a flight for instance is still a relatively new concept for consumers. I think that in making a travel reservation or booking, consumers are going to be hesitant. I don’t think voice assistants are going to disrupt the travel industry in terms of booking anytime soon but its paving the way for interesting uses in voice-enabled search such as checking the status of a flight. The issue will be in reviewing the various flight options from a voice-enabled search, I’m going to want to review them visually, not just have them called out to me. It would be difficult to keep up with and remember all the flight options that are read aloud from a voice assistant without the help of a screen.

Companies across numerous market verticals such as entertainment, automotive, and consumer electronics are adopting voice assistants to improve and differentiate their product offerings. In the auto industry, voice assistants are not only a consumer-play in allowing for more human engagement and interaction with the driver but it’s also a safety play. Voice commands help consumers keep their hands on the wheel instead of reaching for their smartphone or in-vehicle infotainment system.

Voice technologies have been in the commercial market long before the consumer market – voice assistants are serving to expand the market through operational efficiency.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.