No sooner than the December holidays ending, it seems, did Amazon release its seasonal shopping report -- replete with bullet points on how many customers used the ecommerce site to buy gifts, what they purchased, and how they used the company's voice assistant, Alexa, in the process.

As it turns out, Alexa was used for many things by Amazon customers during the holiday season, from playing festive songs to setting reminders.

But there were two particular factoids in the report that stood out to us the most:

  1. The use of Alexa for shopping on Amazon "more than tripled this year compared to last year."
  2. Customers "enjoyed shopping" at Amazon's physical stores, too -- such as the company's brick-and-mortar Amazon Books, 4-star, and cashierless Go stores.

Because there weren't specific figures named in these bullet points -- "tripled" and "enjoyed," doesn't reveal much detail -- it raises some questions on customer shopping methods. As mobile and digital media analyst Benedict Evans described it, the report was "full of statements that sound like large numbers, but which are carefully structured to avoid saying anything actually specific."

So, just how popular was voice shopping during the holidays? And how many people bought gifts online as opposed to visiting brick-and-mortar stores?

To get a better idea of gift-buying habits during the most recent holiday season, we decided to go right to the source: the shoppers themselves. Here's what they had to say.

How Holiday Shopping Was Done in 2018

We asked 869 people across the U.S., UK, and Canada: "Which of the following best describes how you did your holiday shopping for 2018?" For their responses, we listed answer options for methods pertaining to shopping online, devices used to shop online, and in-person shopping methods.

Which of the following best describes how you did your holiday shopping for 2018?  -1Data collected with Lucid

Overall, the highest number of respondents -- a third -- said they still turned to brick-and-mortar stores to do their holiday shopping.

Most shoppers chose one buying method over another, with 19% reporting that they combined online and in-person shopping habits to some degree.

Which of the following best describes how you did your holiday shopping for 2018?(2)-1Data collected with Lucid

The responses indicate that, for many, in-person shopping methods took the lead over buying items online -- which trailed brick-and-mortar stores by 10%.

For those who did most of their shopping online, most did so on a desktop or laptop computer, with only 11% reporting that they purchased most items via a mobile device.

Which of the following best describes how you did your holiday shopping for 2018?(3)Data collected with Lucid

Shopping via voice assistant or smart speaker was even less common, with only 1% reporting this method as their top choice for holiday shopping.

A Quick Look at the State of Voice Shopping

Although such a small percentage of survey respondents indicated using a voice assistant for their holiday shopping, we wondered to what extent that represented people's day-to-day preferred shopping methods.

In August, we ran a survey of 491 people across the U.S. and UK to ask how many had used a smart speaker to make a purchase. At the time, nearly half of respondents answered "no," but the criteria was fairly specific. We only asked about smart speakers -- not broader voice assistants -- and the survey sample was small.

After seeing Amazon's seasonal report, we wanted to get a better idea of what role voice plays in overall shopping behavior. So, more recently -- two days after Christmas of 2018 -- we ran another survey, asking 885 people across the U.S., UK, and Canada: 

"In the past six months, have you ordered or bought something online using voice shopping? For example, completing the purchase with a voice assistant like Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri; or through a smart speaker like the Echo, Google Home, or HomePod." 

This time, and even higher number of respondents -- 70% -- indicated that they haven't used voice shopping within the past six months. (However, it's important to reiterate the difference in how the two questions were phrased. Whereas the first one concerned smart speaker use and activity, the latter survey question concerned more general voice shopping habits.)

In the past six months, have you ordered or bought something online using voice shopping? For example, completing the purchase with a voice assistant like AlexaData collected with Lucid

On the surface, it appears as though voice shopping isn't seeing a tremendous amount of growth. However, one might consider how many of the gifts purchased during the most recent holiday season were devices equipped with such voice assistants -- like Amazon Echo products, or the Made by Google line. 

While the report didn't cite specific figures, Amazon's aforementioned press release noted that "customers purchased millions more Amazon Devices this holiday season compared to last year – the best-selling Amazon Devices this holiday included all-new Echo Dot ... and Echo."

And while it has yet to release 2018 shopping data, around this time last year, Business Insider estimated that Google sold about 6.8 million units of its Google Home smart speaker product during the 2017 holiday season.

So, although the mainstream permeation of voice shopping might appear to be slow to grow, it carries promise. After all, last month, 26% of people identified "smart home" as the tech trend they're most excited to try in 2019 -- with even more naming it as the one they believe will see the most success this year.

And while smart home technology encompasses far more than voice shopping, it does include it -- which could lead to rising popularity of that buying method.

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