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Alexa, Turn on My Holiday Playlist

As voice assistants become more ubiquitous but consumer trust remains a barrier to use, we take a look at how best to leverage this tech for the holidays.

Voice technology represents a unique faction of the frictionless holiday. In many ways, it’s a perfect complement to this hectic time of year—with a quick verbal command, you can summon everything you need to deck the halls or accommodate the extra family members descending on your home. It’s not surprising, then, that voice shopping with Alexa experienced a three-fold increase last holiday season.

“Alexa, find me an eggnog recipe.”
And it seems poised to play a big role this year, too. In 2019, Alexa has surpassed 100,000 skills, which means 100,000 unique ways customers can perform everyday tasks and engage with content by using their voice. And the holidays prove a perfect time of year to test what voice tech can do—from finding cocktail recipes to turning on holiday tunes.

The technology’s growing sophistication is helping simplify our everyday experience—a sentiment we heard echoed by voice expert Jon Hackett, SVP, Director of Emerging Technology at Nurun. “Voice is a way of using automation to simplify how you get something done. Instead of opening an app and tapping through screens or clicking a dozen times on a website to order something, it’s one command. Or say you are cooking a big meal for your family and need to set seven timers at once to manage everything. For the holidays, that hands-free utility can be invaluable.”

“Alexa, find me a personalized, heartfelt gift for my girlfriend….”
Voice technology helps make small tasks easier and more efficient—and that’s where most consumers are content for it to stay, according to a recent PWC study. But for situations with a greater financial stake, consumer trust remains a significant barrier for voice assistants, and the numbers for shopping are telling. Sixty-four percent of consumers would rather visit a traditional store than use a voice assistant to shop, rising to 76% for shopping online. In other words, for bigger or more nuanced purchases, people would rather do their own searching.

Alexa, Turn On My Holiday Playlist STAT

Jon shed some light on the complexities that voice tech faces. “When it comes to the promise of a voice-based assistant, there’s still a lot of distance to cover. These systems don’t come with the same smarts we experience in conversation with another human. From speech we get an idea of the intent in what a person is asking for, and when we know intent, we can serve them back with something relevant. The conversational interface is going to be really big, but we aren’t there yet.”

Though voice tech is showing no signs of decline, this sense of misunderstanding has led to a backlash against its capabilities, as Wired recently covered. When it comes to shopping, voice assistants run into trouble the more complicated a request is—or the more variables you include in a search. As confused voice assistants attempt to direct shoppers in an undesired direction, people simply become frustrated with the relationship.

“Alexa, where is Santa Claus now?”
But since it’s the holidays and we really don’t want to end on a down note, we asked our friend Jon about how he’s leveraging voice tech for good cheer this year—and it turns out that turning on your Christmas playlist is just the beginning.

“Holiday entertainment is going to be something we see more of this year.” Google Assistant makes it possible for kids to call Santa, and several voice assistants allow you to connect and control your holiday lights for a household extravaganza that would give Clark Griswold a serious case of incandescent envy. “That’s the rich area where voice tech is a lot of fun,” said Jon. “With a few magic words, you can make the holidays come alive.”

December 2, 2019