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Report: 36% have done ‘local search’ on smart speaker

Echo dot

There are somewhere between 45 and 50 million smart speaker devices now in US homes, with some people owning multiple devices. Adoption is clearly starting to have an impact on the growth of other smart home tools and appliances.

For our purposes here the question arises: are smart speakers simply for music, weather and traffic or will they see a broader array of use cases? Some people are quite bullish and others remain skeptical about whether Alexa and Google Home devices will truly become “search” tools or be used in shopping research in any meaningful way.

New survey based research from NPR and Edison Research argues “yes” and offers clues to where the market is headed.

NPR smart speaker report

The two entities released the third installment of their “smart audio” report last week. The research was based on a survey of roughly 900 US adults and it breaks down findings between “first adopters” and “early mainstream” users. The distinction between the groups is having owned a smart speaker for more or less than a year. Early mainstream users were roughly 74 percent of the sample.

In general the research finds that early mainstream owners are using smart speakers for a broader array of tasks and content than first adopters, who bought them primarily to listen to music and/or as smart home controllers.

One of the more interesting pieces of data, consistent with earlier findings, is that smart speakers are cannibalizing usage of other media and devices. Radio is the biggest loser, but smartphones, computers and tablets are also seeing less time. How much less and specifically what tasks or usage have shifted is not clear. Indeed, a meaningful minority of early mainstream users (38%) bought a smart speaker specifically to “reduce screen time.”

Smart Audio report

Somewhat paradoxically, 56 percent of early mainstream owners say they’re using virtual assistants on their smartphones more since buying a smart speaker. It’s not clear if this applies exclusively to Google or has impacted Siri as well.

For a meaningful percentage of early mainstream owners, smart speakers are clearly being used as search and transactional devices. That suggests that as utility improves we’ll see that behavior grow. Here’s the evidence:

  • 36% have looked up restaurants or businesses locally (this may be “name in mind”)
  • 34% have used them to make a call
  • 37% have researched items they wanted to purchase
  • 17% had ordered a new product they hadn’t previously purchased

The chart below reflects early mainstream owner activities throughout the week. Interestingly, food ordering is the top weekly task. Local search isn’t that far behind.

The above data appears to validate the more bullish scenario. Smart speaker owners are already conducting local searches and buying things using these devices. Right now that functionality is relatively crude but could improve dramatically over time. That would, in turn, create a virtuous, self-reinforcing cycle of local search, calls and transactions.

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