Amazon’s Alexa-Powered Voice Search is Great—Except That Nobody is Buying

In Technology by Shelly Kramer1 Comment

Amazon’s Alexa-Powered Voice Search

Amazon’s tech products, including Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Fire TV, and Amazon Tap are powered by cloud-based AI called Alexa and this AI powers Amazon’s voice search capabilities. For the far-field Alexa-powered devices like Amazon Echo or the Echo Dot, users activate them by saying the wake word. For other devices like your Fire TV or Tap, users activate by pressing the microphone button and talking. The question or request is quickly processed in the cloud. For families like mine, Alexa is perched on a shelf in the kitchen and is part of our daily lives, and we use the Alexa-powered voice search function on our Amazon Fire TV pretty much daily as well.

Buying things, however, is a different story. Are you one of the millions of consumers who have purchased an Echo product, Fire TV or Amazon Tap? Have you used your devices to buy things? The current stats say probably not. Interestingly enough, even though I am a heavy Amazon purchaser, I have never used any of my devices to either purchase something or put something on a shopping list. What about you? I think that’s interesting. So I went exploring for some info about Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant and how that’s impacting consumer purchasing habits….

How Alexa is Commonly Used

One of the most popular products that comes powered by the Alexa voice assistant is the Amazon Echo robot. More than 8 million people have the Echo device and, like me and my family, they use it to make their lives easier in numerous ways. According to one survey, the most common uses for Alexa include turning on music, controlling smart lights, setting a timer, and reading the news. I use it when I’m cooking for measurement conversions, setting multiple timers, and asking random questions. My kids use it for music, homework, and for asking random (and often quite silly) questions, and to amuse themselves by asking Alexa to tell them jokes.

Here’s the rub: Only 10 percent of Amazon Echo users report using the device (and Alexa’s voice search capability) to add an item to a shopping list.

So it should then come as no surprise to find that even fewer people report actually make purchases with the help of Amazon’s Alexa. One survey found that one percent of people who purchase from Amazon do so through Alexa. Clearly, people have not found Amazon Alexa helpful as an ecommerce tool. Not yet, anyway.

How People Buy from Amazon

The survey conducted by Branding Brand asked 1,000 Amazon shoppers how often they buy from Amazon and how they make their purchases. About 85 percent said they buy something from Amazon at least once a month, and 28 percent do so once a week. So (like me) these are serious Amazon shoppers.

As far as how they shop, most seem to prefer the Amazon website, with 37 percent reporting they shop by desktop. The site is also fairly popular on mobile devices, with 23 percent reporting they visit Amazon via smartphone and 7 percent from their tablets.

The Amazon app is also popular, with 25 percent of those shopping via smartphone are doing so via the app. About five percent of shoppers using tables also report using the Amazon app. But here’s the kicker—a mere one percent of shoppers use Amazon Alexa to make purchases, and zero percent report using the Amazon Dash buttons, which apparently just haven’t taken off.

What the Survey Results Mean

This isn’t surprising, because the adoption of voice search and virtual assistants isn’t universally strong—yet. Right now, we’re in the early adopter stage and while there are plenty voice search users and there are infinitely more who’ve not yet adopted this method of seeking information and answers. I use voice search all the time and alternate between Google and Siri for those queries and use Siri for text messages and email sends, especially when mobile, so I’m very comfortable with it. I also use my Amazon Echo, which I’ve owned since they were first released. While I use the Echo robot for a myriad of things, AND I buy from Amazon all the time, I have never asked Alexa to buy something from Amazon or to put something in my shopping basket. Nor would I ever be interested in buying Amazon’s Dash buttons and having them all over my house. I’ve never understood that product.

Bottom line, I’m an early adopter of voice search/query/instruction/messaging and a frequent Amazon customer, yet even I don’t use voice commands directed to Alexa to make purchases. So it’s not at all surprising that other users aren’t adopting this behavior either. We’re just not there yet.

It will be interesting to see what evolves as voice search and the use of virtual assistants becomes more widely adopted. Once people feel comfortable asking a robot to make a purchase for them instead of picking up a device to do that, it will be interesting to see how these figures change. As for me, it’s not that I’m not comfortable doing it, it just honestly doesn’t occur to me. I also think that many of my Amazon purchases are made as part of a process where I’m looking for something, comparing features, pricing, shipping times, etc., and all of that seems way easier to do online. But I’m sure this behavior on my part, as well as behavior of other consumers as it relates to the adoption of the use of voice to make purchases—on Amazon or elsewhere. Definitely something interesting to watch.

What about you? Do you have an Amazon Echo robot? Do you use Alexa’s voice search/commands to make purchases? If so, how often? Do you use it exclusively or occasionally make purchases in that manner, but make other purchases online?


Shelly Kramer is a Principal Analyst and Founding Partner at Futurum Research. A serial entrepreneur with a technology centric focus, she has worked alongside some of the world’s largest brands to embrace disruption and spur innovation, understand and address the realities of the connected customer, and help navigate the process of digital transformation. She brings 20 years' experience as a brand strategist to her work at Futurum, and has deep experience helping global companies with marketing challenges, GTM strategies, messaging development, and driving strategy and digital transformation for B2B brands across multiple verticals. Shelly's coverage areas include Collaboration/CX/SaaS, platforms, ESG, and Cybersecurity, as well as topics and trends related to the Future of Work, the transformation of the workplace and how people and technology are driving that transformation. A transplanted New Yorker, she has learned to love life in the Midwest, and has firsthand experience that some of the most innovative minds and most successful companies in the world also happen to live in “flyover country.”