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Speak Up: Voice Control Still In Its Infancy

Consumers remain mystified by its potential

Some of the industry’s top tech merchants (and one leading analyst) gathered in January for TWICE’s annual Retail Executive Roundtable at CES. The following excerpt is one thread from the larger conversation, which we’re serializing this week online.  

TWICE: Are consumers getting more comfortable with shopping by voice?

Matt Furlong, Amazon: We are still in the early days, but we’re encouraged by what we are seeing. We offered unique deals and early access to deals via voice shopping. We see more and more Prime members taking advantage of that.

We believe voice is the future and where things are heading for smart home, and shopping becomes a part of that as well. It’s a natural user interface that can make complex things much simpler for customers, and we believe enabling customers to shop with their voice is just part of that equation.

See: Retailers Are Sold On The Smart Home, But …

TWICE: What was the thinking behind Alexa co-mingling with Cortana in Windows products?

Furlong: We believe there will be several players in the voice space and intelligent agents that can do different specialized tasks. The best thing for customers is if those can work together, which is why we partnered with Microsoft on the Cortana ability. You can use Alexa to access Cortana and do things like access your calendar for work.

Watch: How Comfortable Are Consumers With Voice Control?

Inversely, you can access Alexa through Cortana. We think that is where things need to head, as we think about the various intelligent agents that are powered in voice.

David Workman, ProSource: Voice is an enabling technology that embeds itself into a lot of other things and makes people reconsider categories and technology. But it’s still a mystery to get it beyond just being in the kitchen and saying, “Tell me a joke,” or something like that. There’s a long runway of what the customer is going to go through.

As natural language becomes more embedded and systems get smarter, which they will, one will be able to effectively command-control many more things. Our industry has suffered in the past with technology in that we have expected the customer to work too hard to get there, and one of the beauties of voice is keeping the wizard behind the curtain and letting the product work for the customer, rather than the customer having to work for the product.

As you get products like Alexa and Google Home, it’s a Trojan horse that gets people thinking about the “what if.” We are at the very beginning of what is going to be a ground-swell boom of consideration for many things, whether it’s lighting, security or surveillance cameras. Penetration on most of them is so low. Control4 looks at households of $150,000 and above in income as a potential market. There are 14.3 million of those households, and they have 3 to 3.5 percent penetration against those households. We haven’t even come to the sweet spot in many of the technologies and categories.