Let this stat about people ordering products by voice from NPD Group sink in a little.
In a recent survey that analyzes receipts at checkout, the research firm found that there's a 6 percent increase in how many products people buy from Amazon.com when they own the Amazon Echo speaker. Their overall purchases from these folks went up 10%, which might not seem that high until you realize why that is.
For Echo owners, ordering by voice is easier. It takes all of the clicking, typing, hunting, and searching out of the equation. I've tested this myself many times. In fact, I'm the ideal customer. I hate shopping in person and online shopping is a pain. I'll do whatever I can to take the consternation out of the process--e.g., the waiting, the browsing, the crowds, the returns. If I'm looking for a book by Bill Bryson, I don't want to drive anywhere, hunt around on dusty bookshelves, or (gasp) ask a clerk for help.
Here's what I like better. I can ask Alexa a question like this:
"Alexa, can you order the new Amazon Kindle for me?"
The bot dutifully adds the product to my shopping cart and places the order. It arrives in two days (with free shipping, natch) at my doorstep. Note that she understands it's the newest version for $80. There's no fuss. I can also shop for a USB cable and a SanDisk camera card, check on the deals of the day, and rent a movie. Alexa doesn't quite understand questions about running shoes yet and she doesn't let me order grocery products (like cereal and granola bars), but that's coming.
With the Google Home, announced recently, there is also a great opportunity for voice shopping. I can't say how it will work yet, since the Google Assistant (basically, the Alexa equivalent) that runs on the Home speaker doesn't let you shop yet. You can get a good idea of how the Assistant can help, and in many ways the A.I. is better. In the Allo messaging app, I asked the Assistant which apples are best for making a pie, which country is the smallest in the world by population, and how long my flight to Austria will take in November. This worked on Allo, which runs on Android and iOS phones and tablets, but Alexa shrugged and said she doesn't know.
We're getting there, though. I will admit my own bias about in-person shopping. I want to order products fast and without and complexity. I want to ask about apples, USB cords, movies, and order a pizza all by voice and have it work.
Benjamin Arnold, industry analyst of consumer technology at NPD Group, told me this is what he's seeing with other consumers too--they want to take out the middleman.
"There are some products like consumables that are very easy to order via voice, and the purpose of having access to Alexa around the home means less friction to ordering," he says, speaking exclusively to Inc.com. "If someone sees they are running out of laundry detergent while in the laundry room, it would be easy to order more right then and there, simply by voicing a command."
Arnold also noted that the next step in shopping by voice is to have the assistant become more proactive and make suggestions. Alexa or the Google Assistant would know I'm running low on printer ink or that I recently bought a digital camera and might need to stock up on memory cards. He says, instead of me ordering the detergent, the assistant would ask me to confirm the order instead. That will put us in an interesting position of approving the shopping an assistant does.
At that point, it will feel really familiar, like approving a new phone for a teenager in the home. Did I say this would not be stressful?