Holiday Season Forecast: 50 Percent Of All U.S. Consumers Will Own A Smart Speaker

Even though just 17 percent use voice to initiate a one-time order for pick-up in-store, as more brands strike deals with Google and Amazon, that will likely change as well as more smart devices alter the way people initiate a purchase, an Adobe study suggests.

An Adobe survey of 1,000 Americans offers yet more assurance to those who contend the “voice-first” (or at least “voice-central”) era is moving steadily ahead, as the company is forecasting that nearly 50 percent of consumers will own a voice-activated smart speaker by the end of the holiday season.

The 2017 holiday season already provided a significant boost to the purchase of voice activated devices by Google and Amazon. The Google Home and Google Mini smart devices, which are powered by the Google Assistant, saw substantial sales during that shopping period, as market researcher Canalys noted that Google shipped 3.2 million Google Home and Home Mini products in the first quarter of 2018, while Amazon shipped only 2.8 million.

Adobe’s study, The State of Voice Assistants, points to a rising tide for both Amazon Echo and Alexa, as well as Google Home.

Ownership of smart speakers has increased by 4 percent since Dec. 2017, Adobe says. This growth is even more considerable when accounting for the fact that 79 percent of smart speaker sales occurred in Q4.

Glass Half-Full?

In terms of its prediction, Adobe’s survey notes that 52 percent of consumers who do not currently own a smart device aren’t expecting to buy one this holiday season. Nevertheless, a combination of those consumers who do own at least one voice activated connected home device (32 percent) and those who don’t currently have one (16 percent) do plan to buy one by the time the Christmas shopping period is over.

While this “glass half-full/half-empty” view suggests some indifference among consumers, it does show the amount of room smart home devices have to grow.

And as more consumers use voice activation, it will ultimately influence others.

Adobe addresses the “is it a fad?” question by noting that “3D TVs, QR codes, and Segway are all part of the over-hyped tech club that faded away after the initial popularity burst.”

The difference with smart devices, according to Adobe’s study, is that voice tech is getting incorporated in our culture: Only 4 percent of smart speaker owners reported reducing their usage of voice assistants in the past year, 76 percent have been using them more. Even out of those who don’t own a smart speaker 38 percent said they’ve been using voice assistants more, and only 11 percent have been using them less, Adobe says.

Smart Device Owners Develop Their Voice

Whereas other tech that didn’t catch on indicated that novelty is not enough for mass consumer adoption, one advantage of voice activated smart devices have versus previous “game-changing tech” is that are not nearly as expensive as products like 3D TV.

But more importantly, the use cases of voice activation  are clear, simple, and expanding.

Looking back at this past spring’s Mary Meeker 2018 Internet Trends report, 20 million smart devices shipped in the third quarter of 2017 to more than 30 million in the fourth quarter.

As these devices proliferate, voice-activated searches and commands are becoming more mainstream. Certainly, with all the complaints about auto-correct, voice provides an easy alternative to texting when a user is walking or performing other tasks with their hands. In fact, an estimated 40 percent of searches by U.S. adults today are spoken.

In the third Smart Audio Report by Edison and NPR (read our coverage of the first and second reports), the evolution of the voice activation use cases have only started to take shape.

The Edison/NPR report described the “new smart speaker owners”  as a distinct audience in terms of user profile and behavior. And that behavior with respect to smart speakers is changing rapidly.

Previous Edison/NPR reports — among others — suggested that the primary use for smart speakers revolved around accessing news, weather, and music playing.

But with the most recent survey, which included interviews with 909 Americans 18-year-old and up who own at least one smart speaker — the use cases are evolving (albeit gradually).

Source: Adobe, Sept. 2018

While the majority still use voice to get the usual information about their day, 27 percent of early adopters and 36 percent of mainstream users used a smart speaker to find an area restaurant or business. (Top ranked usage still involves listening to streaming AM/FM radio stations 41 and 47 percent for early adopters and mainstream adopters, respectively.)

When it comes to requests smart speakers have made in a given week, 26 and 33 percent of early adopters and mainstream adopters, respectively, have used voice activation to add an item to a shopping list — the second most popular behavior after “controlling household devices.”

When it comes to “weekly tasks” made with a smart speaker, ordering food came in first with 14 percent of survey respondents citing that activity before getting traffic and getting recipes (11 percent each),

“First adopters” (those who have owned a smart speaker device for more than one year) demonstrate more advanced use of the voice assistant and smart speaker – for instance, using it to control home security and other household devices, the report says.

By contrast, new, “early mainstream” users (who have owned a smart speaker device for less than one year) are relying on the technology for a wider range of daily activities including ordering food, making calls, getting traffic reports, researching products, shopping, and even facilitating family/social time, NPR and Edison add.

Interestingly, the gender divide among smart speaker owners is worth noting: in terms of ownership, 54 percent of women have a smart speaker compared to 46 percent of men. Given that women influence roughly 80 percent of all consumer spending, the marketing implications of women in the lead of voice activated customers is clear.

“Voice-activated tools have become part of our daily lives and are bringing dramatic changes to consumer behavior,” says NPR CMO Meg Goldthwaite. “As the research shows, smart speaker owners are turning off their TVs and closing down their laptops to spend more time listening to news, music, podcasts and books — fueling the demand for more audio content.”

The Adobe report notes that 71 percent of smart speaker owners say they use those voice activated devices daily; only 8 percent of owners say they “never” use their smart devices.

As for the way voice influences the shopping experience, brands have remained skeptical.

Here too, Adobe’s survey provides some nuanced assurance that voice activation is already impacting commerce. In terms of usage, 47 percent of Adobe survey respondents say they use their smart device for product searches, while 43 percent use voice to create shopping lists. Another 32 percent even use voice for price comparisons.

Even though just 17 percent use voice to initiate a one-time order for pick-up in-store, as more brands strike deals with Google and Amazon, that will likely change as well.

“While not many smart speaker owners don’t commit to placing orders over their device,” Adobe says, “they use them heavily to create lists, compare prices and initiate their product search.”


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.