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Echo Dot’s Big Black Friday: Are We in a ‘Voice First’ World Yet?

Echo dot

According to Amazon, the best selling product on its site this past weekend was Echo Dot. The company said, in a press release: “Biggest holiday shopping weekend ever for Echo devices, with millions sold worldwide—all-new Echo Dot was the #1 selling product on Amazon globally, from any manufacturer, in any category.”

This was echoed, so to speak, by at least one firm that tracks online retail sales. In an effort to cement market share, Amazon has aggressively discounted its Echo line of products, with the second-generation Dot selling for under $20 and the most recent version selling for under $30. Google has also discounted its Home products, including the new Google Home Hub smart display.

Amazon has a roughly 70-75% market share vs. Google’s 25%. That’s according to analyst firm Canalys, which has predicted global sales of smart speakers will be roughly 75 million this year. That doesn’t include the current, installed base of owners. It’s probably safe to say that the number of smart speakers (and smart displays) in US homes will be closing in on 80 million on December 26.

Yet all these devices in people’s homes have yet to move the needle as a marketing or commerce channel. (I listen to music, obsessively ask about weather and use timers but little else.) To date there’s limited evidence that people are doing any “v-commerce,” despite consumer surveys to the contrary. Surveys also argue that nearly 40% of owners have done local searches on their smart speaker. Maybe once or twice — but not as a matter of routine.

Smart displays could evolve into viable local search tools; Google Home Hub in particular shows promise. However, smart speakers are not that useful for making purchase decisions where there isn’t already a name in mind.

While the notion of marketers now being in a “voice first” world has received a lot of hype, we just aren’t there yet.

Most search and discovery activity with any commercial intent is not happening on smart speakers or smart displays. It’s happening on smartphones. And that falls into two categories: speech to text input and the use of smartphone virtual assistants. The second issue is one with meaningful content and SEO implications (i.e., schema, featured snippets/zero position).

Both Amazon and Google have been gradually making smart speakers and displays better as local business discovery platforms but there’s more work to be done before they gain widespread adoption as such. Right now, local pack results are pretty much directly reproduced on Google Home and Google Home Hub. There is some interesting interaction with smartphones (send results, directions) but it doesn’t significantly improve the user experience.

To really work for local discovery (and local product search) we need more data and we need these devices to become truly conversational, so that users can refine and drill down  . . . and then take action, which can occasionally be done today (i.e., restaurant reservations). That has a better chance of happening on smart displays than smart speakers right now. But, given something like Google Duplex, I’m guessing we’ll eventually get there — just not for a couple of years at least.

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