Feature Article - September/October 2018

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Voice Automation, Housewares Top Merchandise Trends

By Deborah L. Vence

Over the years, merchandise trends have focused on luxury items, premium goods, experiential gifts and the like. This year, industry experts agree that people's growing interest in voice automation has made it one of the most popular merchandise trends right now.

"The voice control trend has picked up even more momentum and will likely continue well into 2020," said Ken Fishman, director of purchasing for Rymax Marketing Services Inc., a full-service loyalty marketing provider in New Jersey. "People love the convenience that voice control technology brings to their everyday lives. Whether it's checking the weather or getting the news, virtual assistants, like Alexa, make life easier for multi-tasking, on-the-go lifestyles."

Use Your Voice

Scott Kooken, president and owner of Links Unlimited, a Cincinnati-based company that offers a full range of services, from product fulfillment to complete end-to-end solutions, echoed Fishman's view on voice automation.

For example, he said that "Amazon Echo and Google Home, as well as Alexa-based products—the new Sonos One " are among the latest trends. "We're seeing voice automation, Google Home and Amazon Alexa. We're noticing that everything is shifting toward voice recognition and those products are, as a trend, selling really well and each of those products can control other stuff."

People find Alexa appealing for its convenience. You can ask it questions, for example, and, in turn, receive answers quickly on just about any topic. And, more manufacturers are bringing in that technology.

"The new Sonos One actually has Alexa built in to the speaker," Kooken said. (The Sonos One, which is a smart speaker, uses your voice to play music.) For instance, you can say, 'Alexa, play Pandora. "That is the trend, that everything is being more integrated with voice technology. Most of those products are coming out with Alexa."

In terms of cost, the Amazon Echo Dot runs at a $49.99 price point (considered a very good price). With this device, you can put one in your bedroom. It can control lights, locks, thermostats and more with compatible connected devices. What's more, (it can play music from Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and SiriusXM. Call or message family and friends hands-free, or drop in from the Alexa App to your Echo device.)

A more formal description of the Amazon Echo Dot is a voice-controlled device that uses Alexa to play music, control smart home devices, make calls, send and receive messages, provide information, read the news, set music alarms, read audiobooks from Audible, control Amazon Video on Fire TV, and more, according to information from amazon.com. What's more, you can use the device to connect instantly to other Echo devices in your home, by just using your voice.

[It has] " All of that function. It can turn on your lights depending on the garage door opener, [it can] put it up or down," he said. "Alexa has drop-in technology and on that drop-in, I can just say 'Alexa, drop in the kids bedroom,' so, you know someone is listening. It's almost an intercom system. It's pretty crazy getting intertwined into other products."

Though not everyone has tried voice automation, Kooken said everyone he knows has Alexa (stressing its growing fame), and added that the device is great for kids who have homework. "Our No. 1 corporate gift [is] Amazon Echo Dot. [We're] handing [it] out to clients, employees."

This year, industry experts agree that people's growing interest in voice automation has made it one of the most popular merchandise trends right now.

The truth is that almost everywhere you look, voice recognition products are being advertised for their technological prowess and level of convenience, with more predictions coming about that the role of voice control technology will one day be more prominent in the home and businesses.

In fact, a June 2018 article on www.forbes.com addressed this trend. The article, "Five Ways Voice Technology Is Transforming Our Lives and Businesses," stated that, for one, "personal voice assistants are taking over homes," and that "The growth in the home device market over the past few years has been nothing short of stunning. According to a report compiled by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, there were only 5 million home automation devices on the market in 2016—and all of them belonged to Amazon."

Another way indicated that "voice technology is changing how we search," stating that "Voice search is gaining momentum. One 2017 survey of online shoppers in the U.S. revealed that 29 percent use a voice-controlled interface, while 41 percent plan to do so in the future. Meanwhile, 70 percent of smart home device owners already shop by voice."

What's more, "By the end of 2017, Google and Amazon together had sold 27 million devices," and "Juniper Research predicts that a majority (55 percent) of U.S. households will have a device like Amazon Echo or Google Home as soon as 2022."