The act of placing orders on AI-based voice assistants such as Amazon Alexa is referred to as ‘voice commerce’ or ‘voice shopping’.

SwissCognitive, AI, Artificial Intelligence, Bots, CDO, CIO, CI, Cognitive Computing, Deep Learning, IoT, Machine Learning, NLP, Robot, Virtual reality, learningOver 20% of U.S. smart speaker’s owners have already made purchases using in-home voice assistants.

The use of voice assistants for shopping purposes incorporates elements of risk affecting when and how they are considered trusted relationship partners. In this uncertain environment, it is unclear ‘when’ voice assistants are capable of gaining trust and ‘how’ the development of such a trusted relationship affects decisions. However, managers believe that AI-based voice assistants can alter the decision-making process alongside the entire consumer journey, with consequences for brands.

New academic study
Alex Mari and Renè Algesheimer from the University of Zurich have conducted a study investigating the consequences of consumer’s trust in AI-enabled voice assistants for decision-making.

Findings of an individual session online experiment (N=180) in the context of utilitarian purchases (batteries) show a positive direct effect of trust on customer’s satisfaction and a mediating role of set size (n. of options), confirming consumers’ bias towards default choices.

In other words, consumers’ beliefs of trust in a voice assistant have a positive direct effect on their satisfaction with the shopping decision. At the same time, trust negatively affects the n. of options a voice assistant is asked to present.

Interestingly, the n. of options presented mediate the effect of trust on satisfaction. Thus, the higher the trust in the voice assistant and the smaller the number of options the voice assistant presents. And, the smaller the n. of options presented, the higher the consumer’s satisfaction with the voice shopping decision.

The mentioned study also confirms consumers’ bias towards default choices with 60% of respondents purchasing the first recommended brand and 83% (n=149) relying on Alexa’s first three options.

What does it mean for brands?
With the distinction between humans and machines becoming increasingly blurred, voice assistants introduce consumer biases and heuristics with consequences for managerial practices. These are some considerations for managers:

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  1. Purchase decisions involving a new shopping method with unique characteristics are inherently risky. The development of consumer trust is a critical driver of decision satisfaction. Depending on the level of trust consumers express towards voice assistants, brands may become more or less dependent on voice technologies.
  2. Although choice framing does not force the user to make a decision, this may produce several unanticipated effects. A simplified representation of the marketplace reduces consumer visibility of alternative products and features (‘echo chamber’ effect), while increasing brand polarization. On the positive side, a lower number of alternatives presented may lead to less regret over foregone options.
  3. Voice assistants are set to increasingly influence consumer behavior as they become better at proactively learning users’ preferences and habits. Where a lower n. of options recommended by voice assistant corresponds to higher decision satisfaction, an increase in consumer trust has the potential to significantly reduce (or even eliminate) the need for human decision making. Consequently, companies might additionally lose control over the consumer journey.
  4. The consumer’s tendency to choose a default option (default effect) may have a more strategic role in voice shopping than in screen-based shopping. This is especially important as the study reports limited importance of brand (compared to trust) and the non-existing effect of price. When individuals do not possess brand preferences in a determined category, we can expect a greater influence of Alexa’s recommendations.

More about this research: 
Alex Mari and René Algesheimer. The Role of Trusting Beliefs in Voice Assistants during Voice Shopping. Proceedings of the 54th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS), 2021.

Article by Alex Mari and René Algesheimer