A new report from technology journal The Information has revealed that only 2% of consumers with Alexa-enabled devices are using the voice assistant to make purchases.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on August 13, 2018

The study also revealed that less than 10% of those who have used Alexa for shopping make repeat purchases through the technology.

While the technology is still in its early days, the survey paints a different picture to a raft of predictions touting voice shopping as the future of retail. A January 2018 report in Wired breathlessly promised readers a look inside “the lab where Amazon’s Alexa changes the world”.

Writing for Forbes on 27 February 2018, contributor Greg Petro wrote: “We are already seeing these devices create disruption in the retail industry.”

Why hasn’t voice shopping with Alexa caught on yet?

The tiny percentage of shoppers using Alexa on the Amazon Echo comes despite Amazon making exclusive deals available to voice shoppers.

Possible reasons for the low adoption rate include a lack of trust in the technology. An earlier survey of smart speaker use found only 39% of users trusted the technology’s personalised product recommendations and most were using it to make purchases of products they had previously bought.

Customers have also tended to prefer “traditional” online shopping where they can see the different items available for purchase. Industry experts have also pointed out that time savings for customers shopping with Alexa are marginal.

Smart speaker use still trending upwards

It is estimated that Amazon has sold around 50 million Alexa-capable units. A March 2018 survey found Amazon had a giant 71.9% share of the smart speaker market through its Amazon Echo device, meaning it could potentially leverage a huge user base if the technology catches on and tap into significant synergies with its extensive online shopping network.

There are projections the international smart speaker market will become a US$19 billion market by 2023. Another report from March 2018 anticipates the market could be worth as much as US$40 billion by 2022.

Amazon leads the race for this lucrative market with its Echo product, ahead of offerings from Google, Alibaba and Apple.

Alexa adding new skills and capabilities

The capacity for Alexa continues to grow rapidly with Amazon estimating that developers have added 20,000 new skills for Alexa this year alone. The voice assistant can now be used to hail rides through Lyft, pre-order coffees from Starbucks and even answer the door via Echo Show’s Ring.

While the voice shopping capability of the Amazon Echo remains underutilised, many device owners are using Alexa to perform simple tasks such as playing music, getting weather updates and performing Google searches. 65% of smart speaker owners used Alexa to play music and or the radio, while half used it to play news and weather updates.

Read on: AI, Amazon and the future of voice technology in retail