Smart speakers corner the market

Futuresource’s fourth survey of the smart market shows that more than a third of UK homes have bought into the concept and most are happy with it. Analyst Filipe Oliveira warns retailers to treat this as a clarion call and take the plunge

Less than two years after the launch of Amazon Echo in the UK, smart speakers have become the most popular smart-home device in the country. According to the 2018 edition of Futuresource Consulting’s Smart Home Devices and Appliances consumer survey, 13 per cent of households in the UK now own a smart speaker.

This is the fourth survey wave from Futuresource, polling a nationally representative sample on consumer ownership and perceptions of smart-home devices, smart appliances and ‘smart home as a service’ (SHAS), across UK, France, Germany and USA.

The survey revealed that 34 per cent of UK households had at least one smart-home device installed. Other than smart speakers, the most popular were smart cameras (11 per cent), smart thermostats (11 per cent), and connected lighting (10 per cent). Adoption of smart appliances is happening at a slower pace. Fridge-freezers, ovens and laundry machines were the most successful smart appliances in the UK.

Smart speakers, which are far from being big-ticket items, stand the most chance of reaching the mass market in the short term. The rise in music streaming subscriptions and the novelty of voice assistance are playing a crucial role in that process as Amazon and Google want to further expand their reach and ecosystem, permeating every aspect of a consumer’s life.

In the UK, this has meant intensive promotional activity of Amazon Echo and Google Home. As a result, British consumers now stand behind only their American peers in terms of smart-speaker adoption. As in the US, Amazon Echo is the most popular smart speaker model in the UK, followed by Google Home. Most of those who have not yet adopted a smart speaker were familiar with such devices (88 per cent), and a large number (44 per cent) were considering buying one soon.

The quick adoption of smart speakers in the UK matters for the wider industry for two reasons. Firstly, smart speakers are a common introductory step for consumers in the smart-home ecosystem. Secondly, smart speakers are fast becoming the hub that directly controls a vast array of devices and appliances around the home. This trend gained further momentum with the launch of Amazon Echo Plus with integrated ZigBee protocol, allowing direct control of devices, such as Philips Hue connected bulbs, alleviating the need for additional hubs and reducing the technology clutter in the home.

Filipe Oliveira
Filipe Oliveira

Among smart-home adopters in the UK, 14 per cent started with a smart speaker, making the device the third most common first step into the smart home, behind only smart climate control and lighting.

Smart speakers are mostly used for playing music – 72 per cent of owners claimed to use them for this purpose. But controlling the lighting, the heating and large or small appliances are part of the use case mix too and consumers expected to do more of this in the future. Take lighting, currently, only 16 per cent of UK owners of a smart speaker said they used the device to control the lighting, but when asked about future intent, 45 per cent expected to build this feature into their smart home.

In all categories, including smart speakers, there is still plenty of opportunity for growth. Two-thirds of consumers surveyed in the UK are yet to adopt any smart home device, with cost cited as the main hurdle to adoption (56 per cent). However, non-adopters also said that they “can’t see a use for smart home devices” (38 per cent) and a third cited privacy concerns. More than a quarter of non-adopters (28 per cent) claimed to not have “enough knowledge” about smart-home devices.

In what is certainly good news for retailers, 95 per cent of respondents in the UK said they knew where to purchase smart-home devices, so can retailers help consumers convert the non-believers?

While retailers cannot improve data security in the devices, or make them more useful, they can play a role in curating their offer, educating consumers and promoting the benefits of smart home.

Comfort, convenience and energy savings are the top-three purchase triggers in the UK for smart-home devices. In smart appliances, safety and diagnostics, replenishment of consumables and energy efficiency are the use cases most valued by consumers.

There are still challenges ahead for mass adoption of the ‘smart home’ to become a reality. However, Futuresource’s latest wave of consumer research revealed plenty of positives. The rise in awareness was among the main wins revealed by this year’s survey.

Most consumers in the UK were familiar with smart-home devices and know where to purchase them. A mere 12 per cent did not know what a smart speaker was. The US shows even greater awareness – with fewer than 10 per cent claiming ignorance. To put those numbers in perspective, in France, 31 per cent say that they were not familiar with the concept of smart speakers.

This latest research highlighted that consumers are not just aware, but also satisfied. Most consumers that had installed smart-home devices in their homes, said that their expectations had been met. That was a powerful message for retailers to direct at those who have not yet taken the plunge.