Thursday, July 16, 2020

Voice Commerce in a Contactless Commerce World

Thomas John, Senior Director and Commerce Practice Lead
Technology / Innovation

The term “Voice Commerce” has been debated by the retail industry as a buzzword or a valuable sales engagement touch point. With the recent pandemic crisis and a heightened interest in contactless commerce, there is a renewed view of possibilities around the potential of Voice.

What Is Voice Commerce and Why You Need to Pay Attention to It

As a subset of the conversational commerce channel, Voice Commerce allows customers to search for and buy products using a combination of devices (smart home devices & mobile) and voice commands. Within the practice of voice commerce, there are three distinctive channels of enablement that brands should consider staying relevant with consumers:

  • Voice Search will allow consumers to verbally communicate search queries
  • Smart Speakers such as Amazon Echo or Google Home can trigger engagement pathways when commanded or asked a question
  • Virtual Assistants such as Siri, Alexa or Cortana which are readily available via mobile devices or tablets

The growth of the Smart Speaker industry has been largely associated with the voice commerce phenomenon. The Amazon Echo device with Alexa has become a trendy cultural surge even participating in high profile commercials ads. Even as Alexa’s growth has extended into the broader smart speaker market, only 2% of smart speaker users are currently ordering products through these devices. Even as statistics states that there is not much commerce happening in this sector currently, with the level of mobile device usage there is a lot of product browsing and research interactions.

Research by Microsoft into adoption of digital assistants and voice technology, showed that 69% of consumers interacted with a digital assistant and 75% of households own at least one smart speaker device. According to a survey from The Conference Board, marketing and communications experts expect customers to use more voice technologies to interact with brands moving forward. In the current climate, although other areas of omnichannel strategy should take priority, voice commerce should be top-of-mind going into annual budget planning.

Engagement Value and Growth of Smart Speaker Skills

Many brands have been seriously considering participating in either Amazon Echo or Google Home smart speaker capabilities by adding their own dedicated skill which would allow their customers to collaborate via branded apps. One of the most popular skills was launched by Domino’s Pizza which allowed their customers to easily order pizzas by simply invoking the correct Alexa command. But before brands jump into this space, they would have to consider strategically if they can add value for their customers to engage through these skills. Brands do not necessarily have to rely on the Amazon or Google to break into this space, but can create their own voice-powered experience by adding voice-powered search capabilities and live voice-to-text chat and service tools. 

Contactless Commerce Accelerates Voice Commerce Innovation

As businesses continue to reopen to the public, new safety guidelines are being used to minimize the threat of new COVID-19 infections. Even as associates wear gloves and masks and continuously wipe down credit card machine and self-checkout counters, experts are weighing the value of voice commerce innovation for an in-store experience. With the high usage of mobile devices, it opens the doors to engage via in-store voice and digital wayfinding. It is not hard to imagine walking into a store and asking where the paper towels are and hear through your hands-free earbuds that they are on Aisle 9. It brings to life the idea of an in-store digital concierge. In addition to this, with the demise of cash transactions and the rise of digital payments like Google Pay, Apple Pay etc., the idea of touchless payments can be a reality. This is just an example of how voice on its own can be a powerful tool but when combined with eye-tracking technology and touchscreens, consumers can take even greater control over the emerging contactless shopping experience.

There is clearly a powerful case for the future of voice commerce but based on the current climate of businesses reopening and struggling to get their core omnichannel offerings back on track, they will need to prioritize both budgets and efforts. Even as businesses might not be rushing to install voice commerce within their stores, this pandemic has shown there is value and opportunity for them to prioritize budget to implement some form of contactless commerce capabilities in 2021 and beyond.

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