Well, after the bomb Amazon dropped yesterday announcing an arsenal of Alexa-enabled devices – from microwaves, cars devices, wall clocks, outlet plugs, subwoofers – it’s easy to see we’re a quickly moving into a voice-first world. But the reason for all these new voice-enabled devices is because we kind of like talking to them, according to a recent study from Adobe called The State of Voice Assistants.
Taylor Schreiner, director of Adobe Digital Insights, shared some of the key finding from the study with me for this series. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation. To hear the whole interview check out the video below or the embedded SoundCloud player.
Small Business Trends: So, what were some of the key takeaways or findings that you came out of this with?
Taylor Schreiner: People check the weather. People play music on their devices, right? We sort of think of the world like there’s a set of behaviors that you expect people to do and they do. And then there’s a deepened set of other behaviors that are more interesting like sports scores, kitchen recipes; all sorts of the things that are indubitably you see but specifically an individual might not get. So a lot of people, almost everybody does the first category. Everybody does some of the second category. And then we see everybody seems to do one or two of what I call the third category which are really deep interactions that for marketers and for consumers are really new and interesting. Like; “I’m actually gonna check my credit balance. I’m gonna price these tickets.” You’re maybe in the middle of a debate as to whether you should get a bigger television. You can actually ask the device like “How much would it really cost you to get a 60 inch smart television?” You can actually have these conversations really quickly, even more quickly than you might from a mobile device. So that was one big take away that these three categories of behaviors are seen really increasing depth in that third category.
The second thing we saw was for us. We have a lot of work we do through our retail. There weren’t people buying. There was a big question in the industry about, “Do people really make purchases on voice devices?” And the answer is maybe more than you would think. So about a quarter, it’s depending on what you’re asking, about a sixth to a quarter of people have done some kind of purchasing be it their take out, order pizza. Maybe their seven year old figured out how to order pizza, but somehow they ordered pizza. They’ve made individual purchases. Some of them make recurrent purchases on those devices. And so, I think that’s the layer that’s really kind of interesting to look at as a retailer to look at, but if you look at the behaviors leading up to a purchase people are doing more and more of that kind of thing. “What’s the price? How many colors does this come in? How long is a flight from A to B?” A lot of the research elements go there even if at the end of the day people aren’t still really necessarily comfortable with actually finishing a purchase on that device.
Small Business Trends: Yeah.
Taylor Schreiner: The take away for consumers is it’s transforming, and the brands are going to be there to help you with that. The take away from brands would be you gotta be where your consumers are, where they’re doing the research even if they’re not making the purchase. We’ve learned that with so many other channels, right? And then there’s more, the third thing that really struck me, the thing that was surprising to me was the number of people that are going to buy another one.
Small Business Trends: Yeah.
Taylor Schreiner: Another Echo Dot. Another Google Home. You know, any one of these things because when we ask the questions “Are you going to buy one as a gift?”, “Do you already own one?” If you own one, a smart speaker, I’m talking about smart speakers here. There’s more to talk about with other elements of voice, but let’s talk of smart speakers for the moment. If you’re buying this or if you own a smart speaker, of course you’re more likely give one as a gift. You’ve enjoyed it, right? But what was really striking is about half, forty-five percent or so of people who own a smart speaker are looking to buy another one, which tells me a couple things, it tells me they’re liking it. They’re willing to spend the money on it but also they’ve got some uses for those things. And maybe it sits in the living room, and they play music, and they’re tired of having to go from the kitchen to living room and ask it a question and now they kind of want to expand your voice network in the home. And I gotta admit, I didn’t actually anticipate that but its very clear in the data that people are looking to have a broader access to their smart speakers in their house.
Small Business Trends: When you talk about the folks that have smart speakers going to buy it more. More for themselves, but also more for other people. Its pretty interesting to see how smart speakers are driving this, kind of like you say “The Voice Excitement”, versus the mobile phone which there are multiple of more mobile phones out there. People are using them all the time, every day for a number of things. But yet and still it’s the smart speaker that seems to be driving the real interest in using voice first to do things, use voice assistance. Do you have any thoughts why that is since we’ve been using phones for so much longer but it’s the smart speaker that’s actually driving the interest?
Taylor Schreiner: Yeah its really interesting if you own a smart speaker you’re about three times as likely to use voice on your phone, you’re more likely to use it in your car or on your watch. All of these modes open up once you’ve gotten that speaker. So a couple things must be going on. Its hard to get to that directly, but one thing is clear is when you can just yell at objects in your living room and get a response, you open up to some new ideas about how you might use voice.
One hypothesis, and I think it pointed out in the data, is you just get to see the utility of voice much more clearly when you have a smart speaker. The other hypothesis, which is very pointed out in the data, is when you have a smart speaker you are more comfortable socially talking to things. And I’ve been struck by, just over the past few years, how rapidly as a culture we’ve become accustomed to talking to objects. And then what’s clear is that if you have a smart speaker you’re used to whatever that device is being in your living room and having that conversation, and being in the middle of a chat with your friends debating whether Kevin Bacon was in a particular movie and just yelling at the speaker, “Hey, can you answer this question for me?” And not thinking about that that might have been strange five years ago.
So both of those things, then once you’re willing to do that well of course you’re willing to yell at your car or talk to your phone, whatever. The interesting anecdote I have about that is that I got to the point with my navigation that, I was going someplace and the navigation was talking to go a different way – I knew better, and so I just yelled and it was just a “Hey, shut up!” And then my kid in the back is like five years old and he’s like “Hey, shut up!” and I thought “Hmm…” We really got to think about the norms for how we address non-humans and politeness. But I think we’ll get to that as a society later.
Small Business Trends: When you talked about kind of the shopping aspects toward the customer’s journey, there’s been a lot made recently around Prime Day and how with the low numbers people saw for actually shopping using Alexa, I think it was like, what was it oddly like ten percent of the people actually used Alexa to buy something and then only two… No, it was like two percent used it and then only ten percent of that two percent actually bought something else after the first time they did it.
Taylor Schreiner: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Small Business Trends: So, there’s a lot of people saying, “Well, maybe people aren’t ever going to get into voice shopping. ”But it sounds like, looking at the data, that there are parts of the shopping journey that are already starting to travel through the voice assistant, even if the final transactions haven’t taken place yet.
Taylor Schreiner: Yeah, I think that’s true. In my mind, I always have sort of two models, where voice is right now. One model is look, we’ve seen desktops pick up in certain curves. Advertising took off this way. At a certain point people start doing more purchasing, more buying then it became really ubiquitous and then all of a sudden you know everyone’s doing their shopping. And mobile is following, a not too distant form of that path, a little bit different in its own but you think, look, everybody’s got a smart phone now. People are doing shopping. We’re seeing hard data. That you know for a long time people just did maybe ten cents or twenty cents on a dollar of shopping on their phone versus their desktop and that’s really, and its not near parody, but its really starting to close that gap pretty quickly.
See one model is, look, is voice going to be like mobile? It’s certainly going to be ubiquitous very quickly. We’re seeing a lot of people owning them, looking to own them. They’re very cheap as a consumer electronics item and they integrate really well with all sorts of other stuff that you have and not very complicated to use. So it could be like mobile, right? But one thing that mobile had that went very clear was a really strong ecosystem of apps and developers and open platforms on which new mobile could evolve quickly. And when I’d look at what’s available in the voice space it looks a little bit more to me like 1998-1999 where you can go to Yahoo!, you can ask a specific set of questions, there’s a flight track here and there, there’s an app here and there. The credit card companies got a basic thing that they know how to do now but we haven’t really crossed over to figuring the new and different utility of voice. And I think that’s our moment right now, is figuring out how voice is different and what’s it really going to do differently.
Small Business Trends: Well I have to ask, since you’re living in a household that doesn’t have these devices, because of your wife, and there’s a lot more people out there like your wife who are like, “I do not what this in my house right now,” do you see that as something that over time will eventually, the trust will be built up enough, or the utility will be built up enough where even folks that are kind of hesitant to it now will get over the hump or do you see that as continual impediment that voice will have to face?
Taylor Schreiner: I’m absolutely willing to answer that question on the condition, that I not talk about my wife specifically, and her changes in attitude. In general, I mean, I think yeah. Look if you’ve got some large portion of the country who are households, especially households who can afford these devices, who have devices in their house. I go over to them, I see how their uses have evolved and I see that well, maybe it’s not so bad, maybe I’m interested in getting one for the utility, right? Because there’s more stuff I can do with it that I thought. And then of course my kid goes over to another kid’s house and he’s like, “Why don’t we have one?” Right, that happens.
The privacy and trust issues, they’re not gonna go away. I personally don’t see them being sort of locked up and everyone feeling reassured about the privacy issues of voice. I think two other things are more than likely to happen. One is, we’re gonna realize we’ve got voice on our phones, voice in our cars, voice everywhere else anyway. And the living room is a sort of “Might as well”. And as I said, there’s going to be so much more value in having one, having a voice assistant in the home, that it’ll start to swamp the privacy concerns that people have. That seems to have been the case in a lot of other privacy versus utility tradeoffs in the marketplace today.
Small Business Trends: Yes, one last question would be, you kind of covered the generalities of voice, but are there any behaviors or things you’re seeing that are specific to any of the specific voice assistance or smart speakers, like are folks that are using Alexa more likely to do things than folks that are using Google Assistant?
Taylor Schreiner: We stayed fairly far away from that particular question, in part because a lot of this data sits behind those folks well-guarded. So we’d love to see it. We’d love to know more about it, but also they know better, and they can probably figure that out. What I think one of the big questions that is out there that I am interested in, which is related to that, is screens.
We’re sort of going this other direction now where you’re seeing voice assistance at screens. And I think in terms of voice utility the different companies have different strengths and they’re going to do all the different things. They’re going to have different capabilities. But you’ve seen across companies this addition of screens and I’m really curious as to how that changes people’s behaviors because it seems that, just to go back to the retail example, it seems that people sort of get stuck at a certain point for instance about how they buy, and they’re not willing to finish the purchase because they haven’t seen it. They don’t know what color the boots are. They don’t know, like, even someone who’d just seen the price on paper as it were as opposed to hearing it makes a difference as to how you process how much in costs. And so having a screen, first of all whether people pick up screens and feel comfortable with that’s going to be an interesting question, but then if they do whether that really transforms the way that voice is used, that’s something we’re looking to ask in the very near future.
This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.