Assessing the Commercial Search Potential of Smart Speakers

There are more than 130 million smart speakers (and displays) in US homes, according to a new survey from But search and e-commerce are not common use cases. The potential remains, however.

The report argues there are about 66 million smart speaker owners in the United States and over 130 million such devices in American households. The report is wide ranging but I wanted to zero in on the questions people ask their Alexa or Google Home devices as some evidence of pent up search demand.

Smart Speaker Use Case Frequency

Smart speaker use cases

The chart above reflects survey respondents’ most frequent uses of their smart speakers. Ask a question is number one overall; it’s number two in terms of monthly and daily frequency. The more explicit “search for product info” is in the lower half of the list.

The survey drilled into the “ask a question” category and produced the list below. The top categories were music, news, movies, how-to and so on. That music questions are the most common makes sense, given that “listen to music” is the the most frequent use case.

There’s still a good deal of explicit or implied “local search” on the questions list: movies, restaurants, store hours, local business, travel, fashion. All of these have directional and commercial implications. A better user experience (or better voice apps) could further reinforce and reward these behaviors. This was the case in the early days of local search online; as answers got better, query volumes increased.

Question Category Frequency on Smart Speakers

Smart speaker questions

At LSA19, Amazon’s Vinod Sirimalle said there were clear behavioral differences in the at home and in-car uses of Alexa. Local commercial queries were more common in the car (near me, need it now) than at home. Over time, those in-car uses may condition people to start seeking more local information from their smart speakers at home.

Smart displays (Google Home Hub, Echo Show) may also generate behaviors that more closely resemble those on smartphones or tablets. Yet the data above reflect both the demand for local information and the still undeveloped potential of smart speakers as a search tool.

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