Is voice-activated shopping the digital outcome that retailers need to offer their customers an effortless shopping experience? Or is it taking AI and machine learning a step too far?
Humans are what we are because of our ability to speak with one another, to listen what’s said, to comprehend the info and to react on what we perceive. We also like to be part of a group, to socialize. Said MacFarlane 2, (2014): “Because our evolutionary heritage provides us with genetic material open to forces and influences from the physical environment, we also require a social environment for brain development and for the acquisition of skills such as speech and written communication.”
So we learn from others and learn others by using our voices. But that is now changing. Now, after millions of years of being humans, we’re learning machines how to listen to voices, to recognize and analyze the message and then to respond in a ‘sensible’ way.
So, if you’re still able to speak, say Hallo! to voice-activated shopping. Because, according to Hailee Sosnowski’s post in DigitalCommerce, voice search is projected to account for half of online searches by 2020.
What is Voice-Activated Shopping?
Voice-activated shopping (VAS) means that a customer can use his or her natural voice to control technology whilst shopping. There is no need to touch anything and the customers can do voice-activated shopping by using their smartphones. VAS is already adopted by some retailers.
Laura Agadoni (JLL) remarked the following about voice-activated shopping: “Right now it’s being used for ordering groceries, pizza or coffee. For consumers there’s no driving to stores, logging onto a computer, or pulling out smartphones to open an app. They simply say what they want to one of the new voice activated devices coming onto the market from the likes of Google and Amazon.”
Take the example of Alexa, the AI-based personal assistant from Amazon. With Alexa in your kitchen, adding an item to your Ocado order is a breeze, says Holly Godwin (OcadoTechnology). Run out of biscuits and have a friend coming for tea? – Just tell Alexa “Alexa, ask Ocado to add biscuits”.
Alexa converts the audio stream into a command (for example, “add to trolley”) and a search term (such as “biscuits”). Alexa most probably will find exactly what you want, because Ocado has ‘trained’ Alexa to recognize the top 15,000 commonly search terms from Ocado.com.
How will Voice-Activated Shopping affect the retail market?
In today’s age of digital driven technology, it’s no shame to ask how voice-activated shopping may further disrupt the retail market. However, there is no consensus about what the opportunities or challenges of VAS are for retailers.
Opportunities using VAS (OnlyRetail.com)
- More sales. Amazon found that sales of its Echo devices increased nine fold compared to 2015. Also, they also spend 10% more and their buying frequency went up by 6%.
- Shopping for customers is now effortless. VAS allows householders to buy groceries just by talking to the fridge.
- Gathering data for an omnichannel approach. Voice-enablement could be the unifying force omnichannel has been missing.
- Investing for the future. It’s been reported that 55% of 13- to 18-year-olds use voice search every day, so clearly there is an appetite (Emma Lyons, Campaign US).
- Speed of ordering. The ability to immediately order household essentials is the most obvious use for voice-enabled retail.
Challenges using VAS
- “It’s still quite a new market and quite complex, so it requires advice and people will want to come talk to someone who can explain how it works, so we see it as an opportunity in that respect,” according to Grace Bowen, RetailWeek.com.
- Tailoring search algorithms for Voice-enablement. “We know that shoppers will not go past the second or third page of a Google search result – voice will be like that on steroids” (Luke Tugby Retail Week).
- Acceptance of VAS. Older generations may take a bit more convincing to adopt voice-activated technology.
- Universal use of VAS in retail. A big question is whether voice recognition technology can work for all retail. What about fashion? Consumers can’t very well order a “black dress,” for example, and get exactly what they want, wonders Laura Agadoni (JJL).
Speech has been argued to be the most natural and comfortable way to communicate 1. So it came as no surprise that it is now integrated in AI technology. So, what do commentators say about voice-activated shopping technology?
“Voice recognition technology is the next iteration of online shopping as consumers increasingly prize ways to complete chores or get the information they need easily and quickly,” Laura Agadoni (JJL).
“The convenience of voice search makes it instantly attractive to consumers, but it also introduces new complexities that retailers who want to survive the age of voice must fully understand,” Hailee Sosnowski, paid search planner, BKV (DigitalCommerce360.com).
My advice? Are your business performing as planned? If not, revisit your business’s digital marketing plan and identify the problem areas. If the most important reason why your business is losing sales is that your customers seeks VAS, then do VAS!
1 Kääriä, A. 2017. Technology acceptance of voice assistants: anthropomorphism as factor, Master’s Thesis, University of Jyväskylä.
2 MacFarlane, A.E. 2014. Voice activated: exploring the effects of voices on behaviours., PhD Thesis, University of Canterbury.