How Consumers’ Use Of Voice Activation Is Evolving

“Voice-activated tools have become part of our daily lives and are bringing dramatic changes to consumer behavior,” says NPR CMO Meg Goldthwaite.

Over 43 million in the U.S. now own a smart speaker such as an Amazon Echo or a Google Home device, meaning that voice activation usage is now fully entering the mainstream, according to a continuing study by NPR and Edison Research.

In this third Smart Audio Report by Edison and NPR (read our coverage of the first and second reports) that looks at the evolution of the voice activation and the implications for media and marketing companies.

The report describes 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 this latest 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).

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.”

When it comes to where the smart speaker fits in with other connected devices, voice activated electronics are the second source of listening for consumers for both early and mainstream adopters. (By way of comparison: smartphone/tablet was in first place in terms of delivering audio with 23 and 26 percent of earl adopters and mainstream adopters, respectively; smart speakers were first choice about 25 and 22 percent of early adopters and mainstream adopters.)

“In homes that have had smart speakers for at least a year, they are now the number one device for consuming audio,” says Tom Webster, SVP of Edison Research. “This has profound ramifications for anyone in media and advertising. For millions of Americans, smart speakers are truly the new radio.”

Among the topline findings in this latest Smart Audio Report:

  • 18 percent Of Americans 18+ own a Smart Speaker, or around 43 million people
  • 37 percent of smart speaker owners listen to 2+ hours of news on their smart speaker each week
  • 81 percent of smart speaker owners are open to skills and features created by brands on smart speakers
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.