Data: Who’s really paying by voice?

Published
  • July 25 2018, 2:08pm EDT
Though it’s still early in the development of voice assistant technology, researchers are getting a sense of who’s most likely to use voice commands for shopping and payments, based on recent consumer data.

Broadly speaking, the biggest enthusiasts so far are consumers who skew younger and male. But that’s likely to change over the next few years as voice assistant technology expands.

Digging into the data, certain preferences are emerging for using voice assistant technology for shopping and payments. “Smart speaker” devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home that are poised 24 hours a day to react to commands are increasingly popular, and Samsung is introducing one next month. But voice assistant usage is spreading on all types of devices from tablets and game consoles to the internet of things. Here’s a glimpse into the momentum for voice assistant technology and purchase behavior among early adopters.
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Currently 91 million U.S. consumers are using a voice assistant on some type of device, according to eMarketer. That encompasses both “smart speaker” devices consumers place in their homes and voice assistant software (like iOS’ Siri) built into smartphones, laptops, tablets, game consoles and wearables.

By 2020, about 106 million people, or a third of the U.S. population, will routinely use voice assistants for various tasks, eMarketer predicts.

The most popular tasks for virtual assistants are answering questions and providing weather updates, according to a number of studies. But increasingly consumers are using virtual assistants to navigate commerce—sometimes with a payment option—as merchants develop hands-free tools to order food for delivery or items on shopping lists. Amazon offered some voice-exclusive deals during its annual Prime Day events, and this week New York-based Yext announced a global integration with Amazon to give businesses control over the answers Alexa provides.

Men are significantly more likely than women right now to trust a voice assistant for shopping and payments, according to a new survey by global payments processing firm Worldpay.

Ordering food for takeout or delivery is the most popular shopping/payments task among both men and women, followed by buying groceries, getting an Uber, Lyft or taxi ride or shopping in general.

More than half of men consider voice assistants to be helpful, compared with just 40% of women. Fifty-seven percent of men said they “like” voice assistants, compared with 45% of women, but some worry about privacy issues. Fifteen percent of men and 24% of women said the fact that a voice assistant is “always listening and awaiting requests” is creepy.

Worldpay conducted its online survey in May 2018 of 516 U.S. consumers ages 18 and older.

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There are some sharp disparities in the way different demographic groups use voice assistants for shopping and payments. Generation Z (18-23 years old) and millennials (24-38) are the heaviest users of voice assistant technology for purchases, and they’re most likely to order food for delivery or takeout, according to Worldpay’s survey.

Generation X consumers (39-53 years old) are most likely to use a voice assistant to buy groceries, while millennials tend to rely on the technology most often to order rides from Uber, Lyft or a taxi, Worldpay said. While baby boomers (54-74 years old) rarely use voice assistants for purchases, they’re most likely to use it for requesting an Uber or Lyft ride.

Quick-service restaurants and eateries specializing in delivery are in a prime position to capture more business from younger adults using voice assistants to order food or groceries. Ride-hailing companies also have a good horizon to capture voice-assistant purchases across the spectrum, especially as older populations with vision issues discover their convenience.

More than half of consumers—54%—have not set up a payment option for their voice assistant, according to Worldpay’s survey.

Overall, PayPal is the leading payment option voice assistant users have selected (26%), followed by credit cards (24%) and debit cards (22%).

Young adults are most likely to have added a payment option for their voice assistant for speedy orders, Worldpay’s survey indicates. Women are significantly less likely than men to link a payment card to their voice assistant, and more than 80% of consumers over age 54 have no payment option set up on their voice assistant.

The results suggest consumers over 40 have cold feet about trusting voice assistant technology for payments, but the adoption curve among younger adults is promising for the future, said Greg Worch, Worldpay's vice president and head of e-commerce sales for North America. "Voice-activated payments should only continue to grow in popularity because of the way they integrate the purchase more naturally into the buying experience," he added.

Even consumers who haven’t used voice assistant technology yet like the sound of it, according to a recent survey by Narvar.

Forty-one percent of consumers said they plan to shop using a mobile virtual assistant; about half of consumers said they plan to use the technology in the near future to research products they want to purchase, and about one in three plan to use voice commands to track packages and contact customer service. Narvar conducted an online survey of 1,543 U.S. consumers online in November 2017.

OC&C Strategy Consultants this year predicted that voice shopping will hit $40 billion in 2022, up from about $2 billion today in the U.S. and U.K. That forecast—while bullish—suggests the 2018 holiday season could prove to be a tipping point for voice assistant usage in the U.S., as rising penetration of smart speakers intersects with pressure to save time searching and shopping.