Virtual-assistant home speaker systems, such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home, are prompting analysts and retailers to envision a time not too far in the future when customers will commonly tell their devices to add paper towels, detergent or other items onto their shopping lists.
Voicebot.ai’s 2019 U.S. Smart Speaker Consumer Adoption Report counted 66.5 million such virtual-assistant devices in the U.S. in 2018 – more than 40 per cent more than the year before.
Amazon.com Inc.’s devices lead the way with 61 per cent market share, and Retail Plus GmbH managing partner Chris Bucker expects Amazon’s dominance in e-commerce and virtual assistants to grow, flashing a danger sign for brand owners and retailers.
Amazon’s virtual-assistant personality, Alexa, “is going to decide what items are proposed to you, and that’s quite dangerous, of course, from the point of view of a normal retailer,” said Bucker, who attended the Consumer Goods Forum global summit in Vancouver in June.
Bucker, who chairs the International TCG Retail Summit, foresees a day when a good chunk of Amazon’s business is selling a range of its own generic, white-label products as the default choice for voice-commerce orders made on its virtual-assistant devices.
“Within five to 10 years, there will be this change,” he said. “It may not be up to 10 per cent [of grocery sales] but it will come, especially for the young people. Convenience is king for them.”
Amazon is not the only global retail behemoth active in Vancouver.
The world’s largest retailer, Walmart Inc, partnered with Vancouver’s Food-X Urban Delivery last year to use part of a 74,000-square-foot warehouse in Burnaby to store food and to deliver grocery orders. It is also spending $175 million to build a 300,000-square-foot warehouse in Surrey.
The retail giant then, in April, partnered with Google parent Alphabet Inc. to launch what it calls Walmart Voice Order. The concept is for Google Home owners to tell their devices, for example, “OK, Google, talk to Walmart, and add laundry detergent to my cart.”
Retail Insider Media owner and analyst Craig Patterson said the Google-Walmart partnership is momentous.
“This changes everything,” he said. “If Walmart is doing it, everybody has got to be doing it, and they have got to be doing it now – developing the technology.
Overwaitea Food Group president Darrell Jones says its Save-On-Foods banner has had e-commerce delivery for about three and a half years and has expanded that segment of the business by 30 per cent to 40 per cent in each of those years.
“We are very, very customer-centric,” Jones said. “We’re here to deliver whatever the customer wants. So if [voice commerce is] what they want and desire, we’ll have it.”