Your Beloved Smart Speaker May Curb Your Curiosity, New Study Finds
Cornell researchers found that people who searched for their own products online considered three times as many options as those relying on recommendations from their devices.
Your smart-home speaker might be killing your curiosity.
Speakers enabled with artificial intelligence software like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, or Google’s Assistant can recommend products to shoppers. But a new study by Cornell University researchers found that people who searched for their own products online explored three times as many options as customers who accepted recommendations from their smart-home devices.
That’s good news for products at the top of the recommendation list. But for users, the devices could be creating a filter bubble for spending habits.
In the Cornell study, participants were asked to select a podcast to listen to. Some study participants could scroll through a long list of podcasts on a screen, while other participants listened as a computerized voice read the recommended podcast list.
Participants who listened to the recommendations stopped the audio early and picked one of the first podcasts, the study found. Meanwhile, participants who read their options considered three times as many podcasts before making a selection.
“We found that this problem is quite significant,” researcher Longqi Yang, one of the paper’s authors, told the Cornell Chronicle. “With these devices becoming more popular and more people adopting them, this kind of interface becomes very important, because it’s one of the major channels for people to be exposed to information.”
Amazon, Apple, and Google devices can all recommend podcasts and music. Amazon’s Alexa devices can go further and recommend a broader range of products, from groceries to batteries. The Cornell study suggests buyers will gravitate toward the first products Amazon devices recommend. A June 2017 study by research firm L2 found that the Amazon devices are more likely to recommend products that are eligible for Amazon Prime, a free shipping service.
The Prime-heavy recommendations could prove profitable for Amazon, as a number of Prime-eligible products are from Amazon’s in-house brands, which sell everything from clothes to workout equipment. Other Prime-eligible products are from large brands, which sell products to Amazon at a wholesale discount, leaving Amazon to sell them again at higher margins. Smaller retailers who want to sell products on Amazon Prime need to partner with Amazon’s fulfillment centers.
“This talk in the industry over the past few months about Amazon using voice to remove the relationship between brands and consumers, we actually find that not really to be true and that voice is not killing brand,” Cooper Smith, a research director at L2, told Adweek when the study was released last year. “Voice is actually helping the big brands.”
Smith went on to note that Alexa recommendations could actually reinforce customers’ relationships with those large brands. The Cornell study, which found that customers succumb to the first options they’re recommended, suggests Smith might be right.