“Alexa, why aren't people shopping with you?”
April 12, 2019
A conversational newsletter by

You’ve seen the stats about voice assistants. Nearly one in five U.S. adults had one in their home last year. Half of all searches will be voice-based by 2020. More than 100 million Alexa-enabled devices have been sold.

Sounds impressive. But despite the hype about voice-enabled devices powering the next wave of conversational commerce, the question remains:

Why aren’t people actually using them to buy stuff?

Opening Pandora’s box 📦

Less than a third of voice-activated speaker owners used them to make purchases last year.

As we saw in our 2019 State of Messaging report, people use their devices to play music, check the weather and get their news, but few are using them to shop.

Now Pandora is trying to change their tune.

The music streaming service is launching voice-enabled ads that will let listeners ask for more information, place an order, or skip past the ad via voice commands.

The idea, according to TechCrunch, is to allow advertisers to target people “at times they aren’t typically able to respond — like when they’re out running, at the gym, driving or cooking.”

By encouraging consumers to engage with an ad’s call to action in real time, Pandora and its partner Instreamatic are also helping marketers overcome one of the major obstacles of voice-based advertising:
« Unlike web and mobile ads — which can be measured through things like impressions and clicks — traditional audio ads aren’t clickable.

OK Google, Got Milk? 🥛

Walmart is taking a more direct-to-consumer approach to voice commerce.

The retail giant announced a new grocery-ordering capability on Google Assistant-powered devices.  

After initiating a conversation by saying, “OK Google, Talk to Walmart,” users can order items immediately or add them to a shopping list as soon as they realize they've run out — an experience that better reflects how people shop for groceries.  

The bot maintains context by keeping track of previous orders so customers don’t have to repeat a product’s full name, as TechCrunch explains:
« Instead, they could just say “milk” and the assistant would know they mean the “1 gallon of 1% Great Value organic milk” they ordered last time.

Right on, Q 🤖

While these developments are promising, voice commerce faces many of the same challenges we’ve discussed around business messaging.

Disappointing AI (the key to scalability). Questions around discoverability (those interactive ads should help). Growing concerns around consumer privacy (apparently Amazon may be listening after all).

As we’ve discussed, software makers have also come under fire for programming their voice assistants with women’s voices, reinforcing perceptions of “female servitude,” as The Next Web puts it.

To fight back, a team of linguists, sound designers and activists have created Q, which they’re calling the world’s first genderless voice.

They recorded the voices of two dozen people across the gender identity spectrum to arrive at a frequency range most people perceive as gender neutral (take a listen, it’s pretty trippy).

The group is lobbying Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft to integrate Q into their voice assistants. It won't solve all our Big Tech problems, but it's a step toward making automation more inclusive. 

The Fax of Life

Last month I told you about the small “t” telegram that arrived on a Michigan man’s doorstep a half-century late. 

Well, it seems rumors of another legacy messaging channel’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

In an op-ed for The Washington Post, history professor Jonathan Coopersmith argues people are sending more faxes than ever.

This is particularly true in countries like Germany and Japan and industries like healthcare, where faxes are often seen as cheaper, more secure and more convenient than newfangled channels like email.

Coopersmith doesn’t mention Slack or WhatsApp (or chat in general), but he does see the (digital) writing on the wall:
« Eventually, the older generation of people more comfortable with faxing than emailing will fade away. Until then, fax machines will whirl away.  

📠 Thanks for reading! You can send me your feedback, questions and fun fax by replying to this email. 

Dan Levy
Editorial Director

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