Almost no one buys via Amazon Alexa: this is why

JC Torres - Aug 7, 2018, 7:39am CDT
Almost no one buys via Amazon Alexa: this is why

After the failure of the Fire Phone, it was completely unexpected that the Amazon Echo would end up causing both Google and Apple to scramble to catch up. But while Amazon practically created and continue to lead the new smart speaker market, it has ironically failed at the very thing it created the Echo for: helping Amazon customer buy stuff. It turns out, only a minuscule percentage of users shop via Alexa and it’s not that hard to see why.

Going in blind

For the majority of the world’s population, shopping and buying things is mostly a visual experience. Even when you’re shopping for food or perfume, seeing the product is still a critical part of the equation. And that’s exactly what’s missing when you try to buy things using Alexa or any “faceless” smart assistant for that matter.

It’s probably OK for exact products that you buy regularly (like detergent pods, eggs, etc.) which would turn Alexa into a sort of voice-activated Amazon Dash. But for buying new things, most users prefer actually seeing the item first before making a decision in the first place. Proof of that is how many of those users start the process by asking Alexa about potential purchases but stop short of actually buying it. Having some visual feedback, like on an Echo Show, would probably help. But at that point, you’re probably better off doing it on your phone anyway.

Joke’s on us

It’s almost too easy to make fun of the how Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant often misunderstands commands. But these jokes do have an effect on people’s impressions of the accuracy of these assistants. They say jokes are half meant and every spoof, every anecdote, and every story slowly erode the public’s trust in them.

And it’s not like users mistrust online transactions in general. These are the very same users who’d shop online or send friends money through Venmo or Apple Pay anyway. In those cases, however, everything is done through traditional input methods, like typing or tapping. They don’t depend on speech recognition that, in the back of people’s minds, are unreliable and error-prone. It’s one thing to send a private conversation recording to a random contact and quite another thing to “accidentally” make a $160 purchase.

Control

It really boils down to what shoppers probably hate the most: losing control. It’s definitely easy to just tell Alexa to buy this or that and it’s done, but life isn’t as simple as that. At every point in the process, from search to checkout, people want to have control. And not seeing what they’re buying removes that confidence, whether or not they had actual control in the first place.

Of course, Amazon could take steps to allay users fears, give them more control, and offer them visual feedback. That, however, would have an even bigger cost of cognitively burdening users and turn them off smart speakers and smart assistants completely. After all, it’s much more difficult to go through a multi-step process using voice commands than it is to click, type, and tap.

Wrap-up: business as usual

At the end of the day, though, nothing’s going to drastically change in Amazon land. The report simply reveals to the public what Amazon may already know anyway: no one is buying anything via Alexa. Sure, it might take steps to inform users better or make them believe the benefits of shopping through Echo speakers. But you can bet that, if anything, Amazon will only be even more aggressive in getting consumers to use the speaker for what it was originally intended to do: bring Amazon more revenue through shopping.


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35 Responses to Almost no one buys via Amazon Alexa: this is why

  1. Amazon has too many options available to make it easy to shop via voice. Even when buying something simple like laundry detergent, there are typically multiple sellers offering exactly the same item but at slightly different prices. Sometimes there are slight differences in size to account for the difference in price, but you’d need to read the details to determine whether or not it’s actually a good deal. Often, I select the lowest price from my search and Amazon will show an even lower priced option in the recommendations that wasn’t included in my original search. If they had a single listing of each product, along with a comprehensive list of selling prices (inclusive of taxes and shipping), it would be easier to get to the best deal. If they make that happen via voice, I might place an order.

  2. How can you compare reviews and prices among competing products. Add to that the chance of Alexa not hearing you properly. And how hard is it to just sit down at the computer or pull out your phone?

    • Yeah. They’d need to create a system of trusted sellers and items that you want Alexa to be allowed to re-order. That would be a good starting point.

      “Alexa, order some more [whatever] from that place I trust.”

      • Seems too complicated. It isn’t really that tough to spend a few minutes on the computer or phone. I don’t see any advantage to buying from Alexa, and I use her every day for other stuff, mostly music.

    • Yeah. They’d need to create a system of trusted sellers and items that you want Alexa to be allowed to re-order. That would be a good starting point.

      “Alexa, order some more [whatever] from that place I trust.”

    • “And how hard is it to just sit down at the computer or pull out your phone?”

      Or walk your fat lazy ass down to the store and buy what you need

  3. Even if it’s something that I routinely order every 2 months or so–I’m not going to trust Alexa to do it. I always want to compare the price in case it’s gone up.

  4. I have had too many creepy coincidences regarding things we’ve said and “random” outside requests for business. THis is will blow up someday when public gets wind automated or not

  5. I just can’t bring myself to trust Alexa. I buy from Amazon every day. I’m a loyal Prime member since Prime started. I have their apps on all my devices. I love Amazon.

    But allowing them to hear what I say in my house is where I draw the line. I trust them to deliver packages to my doorstep for good prices. That’s it. That doesn’t equate to me trusting them to not use every word I say for some nefarious money making scheme, or to sell what I have to say, or a profile of me based on things I’ve said, to the highest bidder.

    Yes the connected home is tempting, but not THAT tempting.

  6. Amazon has too many options available to make it easy to shop via voice. Even when buying something simple like laundry detergent, there are typically multiple sellers offering exactly the same item but at slightly different prices. Sometimes there are slight differences in size to account for the difference in price, but you’d need to read the details to determine whether or not it’s actually a good deal. Often, I select the lowest price from my search and Amazon will show an even lower priced option in the recommendations that wasn’t included in my original search. If they had a single listing of each product, along with a comprehensive list of selling prices (inclusive of taxes and shipping), it would be easier to get to the best deal. If they make that happen via voice, I might place an order.

  7. It’s a bit like “New study finds very few people use a fork to spread peanut butter and jelly on their sandwiches”. It’s not the right tool for the job.

    Even a smart phone is a better search and evaluation/comparison tool than a smart speaker. And even that is not as good as a tablet… is not as good as a laptop… is not as good as shopping in person. You’d have to go WAY down the list of tools until you were desperate enough to say to yourself “OK – I guess I have no choice but to try this…”

  8. Even if it’s something that I routinely order every 2 months or so–I’m not going to trust Alexa to do it. I always want to compare the price in case it’s gone up.

  9. why would you buy a microphone from a tech company and put it in your house? have we learned nothing?

    • Desktop and laptop computers have microphones, are Internet connected, and we’ve had them in our homes since the mid-80’s. Phones are with us wherever we go & have microphones. It’s clearly not an issue. Amazon has already sold tens of millions of Echo devices.

  10. +1 Too many weird internet offers on things I never searched for but often spoke of. Also Echo tends to speak when not spoken to – which increases my suspicions. It was cool at first, but I unplugged it after a few months.

    • Brilliant! We should pay for radio and TV commercials shouting that command at maximum volume!

  11. Anybody with kids in the house understands why you wouldn’t want to enable voice-activated purchases…

  12. The tv randomly triggers alexa to respond. One night, I was watching a movie and some line of dialog triggered alexa to respond “You want to purchase a (I can’t remember), right?” I yelled CANCEL and immediately logged into the alexa page to disable the purchasing option. So, yes, there is every reason in the world to not trust voice recognition with your money.

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