How Will Voice-Activated Assistants Impact eCommerce?

Stuart Elmes

Voice-activated assistants and digital assistants are here, and they are the future.

Amazon sold 7 times more Echo devices on Prime Day 2017 than they did last year. Trend watchers estimate that the 500 million people using voice-activated assistants today will be 1.8 billion by 2021, and that 30% of browsing will be screenless by 2020. Voice-activated assistants are now one of the fastest growing consumer electronic devices according to the Consumer Technology Association. All of the world’s largest technology companies, from Microsoft to Alibaba, Apple, Amazon and Google are investing heavily in this field. Voice-activated assistants and digital assistants are the future, but how will they disrupt eCommerce?

Let’s look at 3 ways the voice-activated assistant will change the way we do business in the very near future.

 

The Shift From Visual To Audio interfaces

 

One of the biggest impacts in this area will be a shift from text to voice-based web searches. Industry analysts have already identified a fundamental difference in the way we search when we ask Siri, Alexa, and Google. People tend to use more natural language when performing voice searches, actually asking the question they have rather than typing in keywords like “best Indian restaurant New York” or “Men’s Jeans sale.” Essentially we have circled back to the days of Ask Jeeves, where internet searches will be a sentence long question, containing more adjectives and total words. Marketers will need to come up with new ways to stay on top of SEO (search engine optimization), keyword strategies, and content.

As with our phones, voice apps (termed “skills” by Amazon) will be fundamental to how we interact with these devices. As of 2016, 32% of Echo users had used the device to buy something on Amazon Prime, and 45% had used it to add items to their shopping lists. These devices are adding skills and apps at exponential rates, and companies that manage to create apps that consumers find useful and convenient could reap immense rewards. Many consumers were introduced to mobile commerce by the Starbucks app, and never looked back. Companies that leverage this technology could find similar success. As of now, most retail apps function like REIs, which uses Alexa to offer a deal of the day. While daily deals are popular, the future will certainly offer a wider scope for voice-based eCommerce.

 

How Can Brands Adapt To Voice-Based eCommerce?

It would be a mistake to assume that this new technology will exist in a vacuum, and turn us completely away from our screens. A shopping list created with voice commands will be transferred to our phones. A voice search for sneakers could easily show results on your phone or your smart TV, with the order placed by voice. Voice-activated assistants will certainly interact with existing eCommerce platforms, and most people will want to see a product before they buy it. Amazon has already created the Echo Show, a digital assistant with a 7-inch screen. It is incumbent upon retailers to create technologies and cross-channel/cross-device marketing strategies that can seamlessly move back and forth between our screens and our voice-activated assistants.  

Another change we are already seeing is brands attempting to create audio signatures to create “brand signatures” on voice platforms. Companies could use sounds, music, or trusted voices to establish an audio identity. Think of the sound of a can of Coca-Cola opening, or Intel’s five-note sound mark. If James Earl Jones were the voice of your banking app, would you feel that your money was safer?

Content will, of course, be massively important in this field as well. Many large companies have already created voice apps aimed at keeping their products “top of mind” for the average consumer. Tide’s Stain Remover app contains advice for getting rid of hundreds of kinds of stains. The Campbell’s Kitchen and GoodNes (Nestle) apps give out recipes, cooking instructions and online guides. Other companies are looking into ways to create holograms, smells and videos which would entice consumers to buy while shopping with a voice-activated assistant.

When consumers are no longer in a retail space where they can see a wide array of products, or searching a variety of websites for the best product or deal, we can assume that the most recognizable and trusted brands will elbow out others in the marketplace. People will be far less likely to try a new toothpaste, pair of boxer shorts, or can of chicken noodle soup if they can’t see, touch or taste it. The brands that thrive in tomorrow’s marketplace will be ones that manage to build and maintain loyalty and awareness in this emerging space.

 

A New Frontier For Shoppability

The way people shop has changed drastically since the rise of the internet. Ask anyone who’s booked a flight or bought an album recently. People have adapted to shopping with computers, then with phones and apps in order to maximize convenience and selection, and to save money. We can already assume that people who begin shopping with digital assistants will be doing so to save time and effort. What will be the best ways to target them?

One of the key emerging fields will be shopping lists. As of now, most voice-activated assistants have a very basic checklist in black and white as their interface. We can be fairly certain that these lists will quickly become some of the most coveted advertising spaces available. Being aware of a customers intention to buy a product will allow retailers and suppliers to target consumers with special deals and offers for products they already intend to buy. Recipes and cooking tips supplied by brands online will also be crucial in the grocery market, as a quick word to Alexa can see Kraft cheeses, or Oxo cubes instantly added to a shopping list, or immediately ordered from Amazon Fresh.

As voice-activated assistants accumulate more and more data about individual users, predictive purchasing algorithms will surely be put into use, and this will be crucial to the makers of household staples. If someone were to have their toothpaste, toilet paper, flour and shampoo automatically ordered based on the frequency with which it appeared on their shopping list, brand loyalty would be hugely important to producers of household goods. Creating shoppable content that entices consumers to try a product will be immensely important in this area.

With bigger ticket items, clothing and electronics, few consumers will want to purchase from the results of a voice search alone. As marketers and shopping platforms adapt to voice-activated assistants, they will need to find a way to convey enough information to consumers to entice them into a major purchase. Screens will be key, as will video content sent to a consumer’s phone or smart TV. Amazon has already introduced Alexa integrated TVs and the Echo Show. It’s safe to assume that all the major electronics manufacturers will experiment with screens and holograms for voice-activated assistants in the near future. Another trend we might see would be an AI concierge that can show consumers features, answer questions, and reply to concerns in real time. A body scan which allows people to virtually try on clothes is another future development which could make consumers more comfortable with purchasing expensive clothing through DAs. While creating these technologies would be fairly costly to companies, it would be one way to make customers comfortable with buying big ticket items from their own sofas.

 

The Future

While we can’t predict the exact impact voice activated assistants will have on the future of eCommerce, we can state with confidence that consumers will certainly adapt to any technology that makes shopping easier, cheaper, and more fun. There is no doubt that creating content for Digital Assistants and voice-based searches will be crucially important for any company during the next decade. We at Adimo would recommend focusing on the customer experience with this new technology. What better way than to buy one of these devices, try it out, and get a feel for the future of shopping?