voice option on a smartphone

When it comes to technologies that can potentially turn customer behavior and marketing upside down, voice search and voice assistants are at the top of the list. But what exactly do we know about user behavior and handling of language assistants?

Voice Search & Voice Assistant usage today

In the third quarter of 2018, sales of smart speakers (Amazon Echo, Google Alexa, etc.) increased 200%, and 22.7 million products were sold. In the second quarter of 2019, 30.4 million smart speakers were shipped worldwide, with sales of more than two trillion US-Dollars (Source: Strategie Analytics). Demand is increasing parallel to the adaption. And interest is rising as well.

According to a survey by Global Web Index, only 15% of respondents said, they already owned a smart speaker, but one in three showed interest in buying one. However, voice search does not only concern smart speakers, but is already part of everyday life for many smartphone users. Intelligent voice assistants like Siri are being used by many.

A report by PWC (PDF) also shows, that voice search is already possible with many different technological devices:

Voice search gadgets

Especially younger users have become accustomed to voice assistants/voice search and use them regularly. Among 25-49-year-olds, 65% of respondents use voice search options frequently. 18-24-year-olds and those over 50 are somewhat more reticent, with 59% and 57%. But the figures show that language assistants are popular. Once they are used, the experience seems positive enough to continue using them. By the way, language assistants seem to be very different from chatbots, whose experience curve is still negative in many cases.

What are language assistants used for?

Even if voice commerce is a topic of the future (and is already available), voice search – the search for information via voice commands – makes up the majority of voice usage. According to PWC, the search for information such as the weather, search terms or answers to short questions, dominates. However, commands are already being executed with language assistants. Almost daily, users play music, activate reminders or send messages via voice command.

Meanwhile, voice commerce is less popular. Every second user does not use language assistants for shopping. However, this does not mean that there is no need. It’s much more likely, that the shopping experience via voice assistance is not very sophisticated, yet. It seems clunky and not very trustworthy. When asked what users prefer, voice commerce or shopping in a store, more than two-thirds preferred the store.

Complex purchases are not made via Voice

Language assistants are hardly or not at all used, especially for complex products that either offer a lot of variation in the selection (clothing) or require a lot of advice (holiday bookings). According to PWC, only 3% of the respondents have bought clothes through an assistant. 0% have booked a trip using this service. This clearly shows the (current) limits of this technology.

While online booking and even online clothing shopping offer opportunities to see the product, check product details and clarify open questions, the handling of complex processes just by voice with a bot is not trustworthy enough for many users.

User concerns when dealing with speech assistants

Concerns about misunderstood words and a lack of data protection, particularly with regard to payment data, suggest that a combination of voice and writing would be the best solution for more complex purchasing processes, at least for now. Many customers inform themselves about products online, but then buy them in the store. Similarly, it could become normal in the future to obtain information via voice assistant and then confirm this information on a (smartphone) screen to complete the purchase.

Surprisingly, users are also convinced that human service is less biased than a speech assistant. Users seem to be aware that language assistants filter their results. It will be exciting to see whether the manufacturers find a way to make these filters more transparent in order to generate trust in dealing with Voice Search.

By the way: Incidentally, data protection in particular should be considered by „design“ for the development of voice technology. Cases such as Apple and Amazon, where employees listened in on private conversations even though the devices were not turned on, can’t happen again and could have a major impact on the acceptance rate of voice technologies.

Advertising must be innovated

Especially in the area of voice ads, it will be exciting to see how companies integrate advertising content. Since a spoken advertisement can be much more of an interruption than a visual advertisement (after all, you have to listen to the end and can’t do anything else in the meantime), you have to think customer-centric from the beginning.


of respondents want to have options to skip audio advertising.

82% want to be asked in advance if they are interested in advertising. Further user wishes are:

  • The option to choose, which advertisements users want to listen to
  • Individually definable blocking periods for advertising
  • Personalized advertising, also based on brands and companies that users have shown interest in (following a social media account)
  • Interactive advertising that creates a dialog with the customer

Given that online advertising is still perceived as annoying by users in many cases (hence the existence of the adblocker) it will be extremely interesting to see whether the mistakes of „classic“ online advertising can be avoided in voice commerce. To do this, however, advertisers must consciously develop innovative and customer-centric ideas.

The future of Voice Search & Assistants

As of today, language assistants are popular. But they are mainly used for very simple queries and processes or for clearly defined tasks (e.g. navigation). In the future, speech assistants may play a central role in everyday life, especially in combination with the Internet of Things. The influence that voice can have in business settings, should not be underestimated either.

With this in mind, it’s safe to assume that the technology will grow exceptionally in the next five to ten years. In the same way that smartphones fundamentally changed customer and communication behavior, voice could bring a change in the way we move around the web, but also interact with physical objects (Internet of Things).

Voice Search might not be the immediate solution for innovative marketing but we can tell you what is and how to implement it. Find out more. 

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