There has been a big hype about voice commerce lately. It is forecast to be the next mega revolution after mobile shopping.

ComScore predicts that 50% of all searches will be accomplished by voice search in 2020. As per OCC, voice commerce will become a 40B dollar market in the US from $2B today by 2022.

Voice commerce or voice shopping refers to the purchase of products or services using a voice assistant, or the involvement of a voice assistant somewhere in the consumer buying cycle – like during search, discovery, consideration, or purchase.

The main driver for this movement has been a rapid rise in smart speaker adoption, largely driven by Alexa and Google Home. (52M Google Home devices and 100M Alexa enabled devices)  The early uses were mostly fun stuff like playing music, listening to the news, or asking questions to challenge the speaker. 

Amazon quickly moved to link this to make simple purchases Amazon from the comfort of the home. This set off other retailers like Walmart, Target, Best Buy, and so on to partner with Google Assistant. Google now has its own marketplace in the US called Google Express.  The “Buy” word on the Google Assistant leads to purchases from the retailers in its network.

 The opportunity for retailers

I see very strong use cases for voice shopping emerging. I expect these to become mainstream very soon. There are skeptics of course, who do not see voice being the right medium for shopping, or at least, dominating the shopping scene any time. The same thing was said about mobile shopping. But as per this report, 79% of smartphone users have made a purchase online using their mobile device in the last 6 months

Both Google and Amazon (Alexa) have enabled an ecosystem for third parties (read retailers in this context) to build their own voice commands/skills easily.  The advantage is that this does not involve the installation of any app for the customer.

On Alexa, the app is called a  “skill ” and can be invoked just by saying: “Alexa, launch SmartGrocery”, OR, “Alexa, open SmartGrocery”

On Google Assistant, the equivalent is called a command and invoked by saying” OK  Google, talk to “SmartGrocery”, as an example.

So while on one hand, they are hogging the limelight by saving the Buy word for shopping on their own ecosystems, retailers do still have a mega opportunity to build their own presence there. It is only a matter of time before most serious brands will build their presence on these voice ecosystems. The early movers will have many advantages for several reasons, I will cover that in a subsequent blog.

I believe that voice commerce will disrupt the shopping scene on the mobile as well as in the store for these reasons:

Mobile Shopping:

  1. The mobile screen is quite clumsy to type even with auto-completion – speaking is far easier.  The combination of speaking and swiping through some choices or clicking is a lot easier than typing.
  2. Google assistant is available de-facto on all android phones, the language processing capabilities are simply amazing, and people are already used to simple things like “Navigate home” or “Call mom”
  3. Stages of the customer journey like discovery or consideration mostly happen on the move and on the mobile device already.
  4. The purchasing part is also simple now through the use of Amazon or Google Pay, and many businesses are integrating with these payment mechanisms.

In-store experiences:

  1. In-store kiosks for store navigation, finding products, or even ordering food (McDonald’s) are common place now, but large screens are still cumbersome to navigate because they do not match up to the latest standards in mobile touch screens. So they end up offering basic functionality like navigation. There is great potential for enhanced and 1-1 personalized experiences by simplifying interactions using voice.
  2. Retail stores look for innovation trends, and for ways to link to the customer’s digital journey. So voice apps on the phone + kiosks can be a game-changer.

The current adoption of voice shopping has been for simple uses, but I believe that the list will keep growing as retailers employ more AI and better personalization for smarter responses.

According to this report by OC&C, right now 70% of the purchases are made for items that people know they want to study by Google, people like to receive information about offers and sales, as well as personalized information that helps them.

Some live examples in the Fashion space:

Uniqlo – They launched UniqloIQ – a voice assistant in the fashion space in Aug 2018. Interesting app with good recommendations. I was not able to find details on the uptake.

H&M – Launched a holiday season gifting assistant and a home stylist voice assistant. 

Gift Finder ( William Sonoma group) I found a Gift Finder app that worked very well for some cases.  For example, find a gift for my husband who likes traveling. But it failed for cases like “Find a gift for my friend who likes tennis”.

RentitBae (A Fashion Rental Store in India)  – This is the first in-store voice assistant I have run into. They have a display screen powered by Google Assistant where you can search for products and see details about each product.

An Australian agency called “First” built a gift finding app on google assistant for KMart. They went live in Nov 2018. They say that they have an amazing 30% returning customers.

Here are some in the grocery space:

  1. “Ask Peapod”  – An Alexa skill by Stop & Shop has a pretty good rating (4 stars from 80 people), includes the addition of multiple products in the cart, questions about delivery, etc
  2. OurGroceries – A shopping list app on Google Assistant. I tried this out, and the experience was horrible. For eg. Simple phrases like “Show me my shopping list” did not work.

After studying various apps, and reading various opinions, I come to the conclusion that there is HUGE potential for voice shopping. However, the adoption will depend on the quality and relevance of the interactions offered. These are some success factors:

  1. Run an extensive beta test to be able to capture all combinations of questions
  2. Provide help at every stage of the conversation
  3. Give proactive suggestions like – “Would you like to set up an alert and be informed when this product is available?”
  4. Use personalized search algorithms to get relevant matches for products
  5. Go beyond basic help to the customer. provide  real value add so that it does not end up being just a curious experiment

Here’s an example of interaction for a grocery app.

Here are some other write-ups on the subject: [ According to a recent report from Voysis and Retail Touchpoints, retailers are investing approximately 14% of their digital budgets into voice technology and these levels of consumer use are aligned with their expectations for the technology.]

We at YFret have built a REAL time recommendation engine AURA. It can hyper-personalize customer experiences in real-time across multiple channels including voice. Connect with us to build a new voice app for your own store, or to personalize the experience on your existing app. We will build you a voice app from scratch, or connect our personalization engine to make your own voice app perfect. 

We are very interested to know your opinions in this area. In our next blog, we will cover interviews and opinions of e-commerce experts around the world. Contact us if you would like to have a discussion and share your expert opinions.

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