Survey: 118 million smart speakers in US, but expectation is low for future demand

The latest smart audio report from NPR and Edison Research estimates that there are now nearly 120 million smart speakers in U.S. homes, representing 78 percent year-over-year growth. However, the survey also found that nearly 70 percent of survey respondents were “not at all likely” to buy another device.

Almost 120 million devices. Late last week Amazon informally announced that 100 million Alexa-powered devices had been sold globally. The NPR-Edison estimate (extrapolated from survey data), would appear very consistent with that. Google has also sold millions of Home devices, although the company hasn’t released any specific numbers.

The NPR survey found that 77 percent of respondents were aware of smart speakers in December 2018. It also indicated that the number of owners that had three or more smart speakers had grown from 17 percent in December 2017 to 30 percent this year. Another 22 percent have two speakers at home. That figure was basically flat compared with a year ago.

Demand is down. Those increases in the number of devices per household, coupled with the overall growth of smart speaker adoption, seem to have significantly impacted future demand. For example, in the spring of 2018 more than 50 percent of survey respondents said they were interested in buying another smart speaker.

But future purchase intent declined significantly in December 2018, with 23 percent saying buying another smart speaker was “somewhat likely” and only 7 percent saying it was “very likely.” The addressable market in the U.S. may be reaching saturation.

Just over half (53 percent) of owners use their smart speakers daily or multiple times a day. Curiously, 16 percent of the sample said they “never” use them. These are likely to have been gifts.

Why you should care. A significant volume of new consumer products being announced at CES this week in Las Vegas are compatible with Alexa and Google Home. Consumer brands are using virtual assistant integration as a marketing tool, to grab attention and differentiate from competitors. However, assistant integration may become so common in certain product categories (e.g., electronics) that it will cease to be a differentiator and will become a competitive necessity.

Beyond the above, most marketers still haven’t quite figured out how to best utilize Google Home and Alexa as a marketing channel. But those use cases and promotional opportunities will emerge in time, given how large the installed base of smart speaker owners already is. However, content, commerce and sponsorships are more likely to gain traction rather than “conventional” digital advertising.

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