Can Amazon find its voice?
“Only a small fraction of smart speaker owners use them to shop, and the few who do try it don’t bother again. The Information has learned that only about 2% of the people with devices that use Amazon’s Alexa intelligent assistant—mostly Amazon’s own Echo line of speakers—have made a purchase with their voices so far in 2018… Of the people who did buy something using Alexa voice shopping, about 90% didn’t try it again”
I’m part of that 2%, and also that 90%. I once made a shopping order via my Echo and it worked absolutely fine, but shopping when you can’t see what you’re buying is suboptimal to say the least in most situations, so I haven’t felt the need to try it again.
It’s easy to forget that the whole smart speaker market was little more than an experiment by Amazon just four years ago, and Google and Apple have rushed to follow them into the market. Facebook reportedly would have too, if it wasn’t trying hard not to creep people out at the moment.
Smart speakers have quickly become part of our lives. They make sense as a consumer product, but the rush to market has left holes in what they offer. Google can’t monetise searches via speech, Amazon finds it hard to get people to buy things by voice, and Apple’s Siri isn’t really up to the job of living inside a speaker yet.
Given the slim margins on consumer electronics, and the expense of keeping voice services running and improving, tech companies need a monetisable reason to offer voice assistants. The problem is, consumers have taken to voice and bought smart speakers in their millions, so tech companies can’t easily pull back on these services like they could if it was an underperforming smartphone app.
So can the likes of Google and Amazon find a way to generate a steady trickle of revenue from each smart speaker owner? Maybe not, but perhaps it doesn’t matter. After all, once you’re in the habit of using Google Assistant or Alexa (especially the former) it helps strengthen ecosystem lock-in that can be monetised in other ways.
Maybe Google and Amazon will eventually decide that charging software developers for voice-related services is a better model for virtual assistants than directly profiting from consumers.
Either way, Alexa and friends are still a long way from maturity.