Will voice shopping ever take off without screens?

Photo: @R.H via Twenty20
Aug 10, 2021

According to Juniper Research, global e-commerce sales conducted by voice assistants are expected to expand more than four-fold by 2023. Devices with screens, however, “will be imperative” to driving the growth by improving checkout efficiency.

Co-author Meike Escherich commented in a statement, “Voice assistant platforms must ensure that the user experience is so seamless that transactions are carried out via these platforms, rather than requiring additional devices.”

The report studied a wide range of voice assistants including those embedded in TVs, autos, wearables and mobile phones, as well as smart speakers.

The report authors encouraged leaders — Amazon.com, Apple and Google — to open up their platform-based commerce services to third-party retailers, in addition to leveraging their own ecosystems to monetize capabilities. A key hurdle to attracting third-party retailers, however, was again found to be the absence of a screen in many smart speakers, limiting the contextual information presented to users.

Finally, growing the size and accessibility of content domain libraries is expected to be critical to increasing voice commerce’s value proposition to third-party retailers and generating new revenue streams for voice assistant platforms.

The global installed base of smart speakers is expected to rise by over 50 percent between 2021 and 2023 to support monetization potential. While smartphone-based voice assistants will be the dominant usage, the rising number of standalone smart speakers means that potential for commerce is growing rapidly, concludes Juniper.

Vixen Lab’s just-released Voice Consumer Index 2021 study found only one-quarter of U.S. consumers use voice activated technology to make purchases either regularly (11 percent) or sometimes (14 percent), although 40 percent were using it to find information about brands.

Last November, eMarketer downgraded its forecast for shopping from smart speakers due to low adoption rates. The lack of a screen that makes it difficult to see what’s being purchased was cited as an inhibitor. Victoria Petrock, eMarketer principal analyst, said in a statement, “While brands haven’t yet cracked the code on how to drive more voice shopping and buying, the number of voice assistant users is rising, and most industry practitioners believe voice has significant untapped marketing potential.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you agree that the lack of a screen is the primary barrier to the adoption of voice assistant technology for purchases? What’s holding back your own voice-shopping purchases? Will voice shopping be more about discovery and research or convenience?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Ironically, where voice assistance can add the most value is with in-store shopping rather than online."
"While Minority Report was the film reference for digital signage, Star Trek and Scotty are Hollywood’s reference points for voice command."
"Most shop with their voice, but buy with their eyes. Adoption sans a screen will be very slow."

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22 Comments on "Will voice shopping ever take off without screens?"

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Suresh Chaganti

Voice shopping has too many barriers and I do not see it coming close to screen-based shopping. It is a niche and it is OK.

For certain situations such as on the go, visually impaired/blind people, easy to order categories, and replenishments, it works well. Online businesses should realize that and optimize the experience and set their internal expectations accordingly.

DeAnn Campbell

Ironically, where voice assistance can add the most value is with in-store shopping rather than online. Amazon is already testing the use of mobile driven voice tech in their Whole Foods stores to guide shoppers to the right aisle for a requested product. Being able to locate a specific item in a store quickly, contact customer service right at the shelf, or even place an order verbally to trigger a home delivery is where voice assistance can gain traction with the consumer.

Mohamed Amer, PhD

Excellent set of innovative use cases!

Paula Rosenblum

I don’t need to see a commodity to buy it, but I worry more about prejudice on the part of the voice assistant to push you to the retailer who made it. That’s my issue with Alexa — she’s going to send me to Amazon. Or to paid advertisers.

In other words, I am not given comparisons or choices.

Neil Saunders

Voice shopping can be good when reordering or replenishing products that have been previously purchased. It can also be useful for confirming existing orders. However when it comes to ordering new things – especially visual things like apparel or furnishings – usage is minuscule. I am sure a screen, which allows people to see the product, will help somewhat. However it is often far easier – and more enjoyable – to control navigation and to browse via a traditional device such as a laptop, mobile or tablet.

Jennifer Bartashus

The use of voice-activated speakers to find answers to questions, queuing up music, etc. is well established, but it could be difficult to expand use to greater purchasing behavior. Expecting consumers to give up visual confirmation of a product they are ordering seems like a step backwards when people live their lives on smartphones and tablets. The exception – and likely current biggest use of voice only speakers for purchases – may be reordering the same product you’ve had in the past where there is a high confidence level you will get what you want, but this could offer only limited growth potential.

Scott Norris

“Siri, place an order for my usual at Parkway Pizza, and let them know when I’m about to arrive to pick it up.”

That’s about as far as I want this technology to go.

Melissa Minkow

I don’t think it’s the lack of screen, but the lack of other capabilities by voice assistant tech. We use our phones for absolutely everything these days – work, socializing, shopping, navigating, listening to podcasts/music. Voice assistant technology has one sole purpose, so it’s not convenient to use it, even with a screen, because we still are so reliant on our phones for every aspect of our lives anyway. Further, I have yet to see voice assistant tech brands and retailers demonstrate strong examples of how the shopping experience is easier and more accurate when conducted this way. Until I trust that I can easily get to the exact products I have in mind via voice, my behaviors won’t change.

Raj B. Shroff

I think the lack of a screen can be a barrier to voice-purchase of many items. However there are plenty of items that don’t need to be seen — toilet paper, tissue, a 12 ounce box of Cheerios, etc. And when the e-commerce ecosystem is better, e.g. with voice integrated into buying an outfit seen on Netflix or a TV show, voice will find more uses. It provides a lower barrier than picking up your phone.

What’s holding back voice is that it’s not solving a problem for shopping. It is so easy to pick up a phone and scan, select and buy — why do you need voice? Voice use cases such as while driving or asking simple questions like the weather are strong because in those instances it is safer or easier, or both.

This goes back to many other comments on tech. If there is a good use case, a problem that tech can solve, it will be adopted. If it’s the tech looking for a problem, the hurdle is much higher.

Keith Anderson

The closest experiences to “good” I’ve had with voice shopping combine voice input with screen output.

Versus typing or swiping, voice input really can reduce friction. But voice output of, say, search results is usually limited to awkwardly reading the title of one or two products, which is why voice-only interaction is only really viable for tasks like re-ordering or adding items to lists.

I do see a lot of potential for VISO (voice input, screen output) modes of interaction, though I can’t point to tons of great examples. Amazon is experimenting with everything from live shopping to AR for fashion, and I think something will eventually prove to be a better experience than typing or swiping.

Adrian Weidmann

While voice and speech recognition technologies continue to become more sophisticated and accurate, their use for shopping is limited by trust and verification. As consumers, we still require the visual and text verification and confirmation presented by a visual display. Our trust is still bound to the keyboard, its tactile feedback and the confirmation and affirmation we get from visual cues and information. The first wave of more mainstream use will most likely be purchasing common household items like paper towels, toilet paper, and grocery staples where mistakes and “misunderstandings” will be accepted and expected. While Minority Report was the film reference for digital signage, Star Trek and Scotty are Hollywood’s reference points for voice command. We’ll see what the “star date” will be when voice shopping is the consumer mainstream.

Ken Morris

I don’t believe the lack of a screen is the barrier but rather a lack of imagination. With online returns now sitting at 32 percent, I can’t imagine what the return rate would be with voice ordering — 50 percent?

Shopping has always been a visual and tactile experience (except, of course, for the visually impaired). Retailers should at least consider putting more effort into writing “alt text” copy for product descriptions. In other words, write copy that engages “screenless” shoppers with more descriptive language. Websites are dinged for SEO points when graphics and photos are missing “alt text” tags; retailer are losing sales because they’re not treating screenless smart speakers as a totally separate shopping experience.

Also, why not add a quick step to the purchase process that maintains the shopping cart so the shopper can review it on a screen later (email, site, or app), then complete the purchase? Grocery orders would improve from such a safety check.

Matthew Brogie
10 months 24 days ago

Voice assisted purchasing has its place today in the realm of replenishment ordering. (e.g.; use the last egg and add it to your pending grocery list), and has quite a bit of room to take off in the “impulse buy” space (e.g.; an ad comes across your speaker for the latest fruit juice seltzer and asks “can I send you a four pack?” — take it from there!) The need for a screen implies a very different shopping experience, one where there is exploration across a wide range of choices for example. I don’t believe screens are necessary for successful adoption of voice enabled purchasing; it is more an issue of focusing on what makes sense and streamlining those scenarios.

Mohamed Amer, PhD

Voice commerce works well for repeat and initial basic item purchases but is best suited, today, for discovery and exploration rather than transacting. Taking voice capabilities and applying them in new customer settings will heighten innovation potential until the voice device can also provide or holographically project images.

Jeff Weidauer

Voice shopping isn’t likely to become mainstream soon. Not only is a screen needed, the shopper has to ask for a specific item as it is listed – voice AI has a long way to go. It’s a niche offer at best.

Gary Sankary

It will continue to grow modestly, it has a place. That place in my opinion is convenience and specifically reordered basics. I pooh-poohed it originally, and now I find myself asking Alexa to reorder a vitamin that I realized I am out off at 10:00 PM. Or paper towels that I forgot on my last trip to the store. I do not see this as a medium for discovery or browsing. I’ve held that e-commerce (all commerce) that creates less friction for the consumer will be successful. In the case of voice shopping, that certainly applies to convenience items. And honestly, that’s about all I can think off.

Ron Margulis

Give it a few years, voice will come into its own. Think about Star Trek – there weren’t always screens when Captain Kirk or Uhura asked the computer a question.

Christopher P. Ramey

Most shop with their voice, but buy with their eyes. Adoption sans a screen will be very slow.

Ananda Chakravarty

Viewing the product matters. Pictures and physical viewing is an important part of shopping. I can buy repeat standard goods with voice, (e.g. toilet paper or packaged CPG goods) that I’m familiar with — primarily because it doesn’t change. This has been the business case for voice shopping. But is this really any advantage over skimming and/or typing in these products in a search engine, viewing and confirming instantly this is the right product, right size, right configuration? Yes — this is the 3-ply I need with 8 rolls and 6” perforations in the paper at a reasonable price.

I don’t think voice will evolve without the visual component. There will always be a niche market for it, but by itself, it misses what people need in shopping — acknowledgement and confirmation.


If you think about where we don’t usually rely on images for shopping, there are loads of options (beyond the replenishment shop) where we will see exponential growth for voice commerce, starting with food for delivery. (Who needs a picture of a Big Mac?!) What about experiences, hotel rooms and travel tickets? You might even negotiate a package deal, and this is much easier with your voice than via text.

Matt Krepsik

The biggest challenge for voice-assisted shopping is tackling the discovery problem. Voice assistance is great for the stock up items and your known favorites, but finding new items, flavors or ingredients for a meal requires innovation to enable discovery and search. We often leverage multiple senses in the discovery process, with sight being a strong complement to sound. Let’s hope we don’t return to the smell-o-vision though!

John Hennessy

The Open Voice Network is developing standards and ethical use guidelines for voice. Their work should improve adoption of voice technology.

With the now common use of voice for Siri, Alexa, Apple TV and control of other appliances, it makes sense there will be improvements that make voice commerce preferred for certain situations. Maybe not voice shopping as the act of shopping suggests an activity that includes making decisions. But if I know what I want, I should be able to ask for it and get it. I shouldn’t have to open a browser or app, search through pages of an ecommerce site, dodge pop-ups, select, order, pay … suddenly a visual interface is a detriment.

"Ironically, where voice assistance can add the most value is with in-store shopping rather than online."
"While Minority Report was the film reference for digital signage, Star Trek and Scotty are Hollywood’s reference points for voice command."
"Most shop with their voice, but buy with their eyes. Adoption sans a screen will be very slow."

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