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Voice Commerce: It's a Natural

By Vivian Wagner E-Commerce Times ECT News Network
Nov 5, 2019 10:24 AM PT
brands must adjust as consumers adopt new voice technologies that allow more natural interactions

Consumers increasingly are shopping by voice rather than typing on a keyboard or even searching on a phone. People are growing ever more comfortable with voice assistants, as the tech becomes smarter and more conversational every day.

"Consumers appreciate the simplicity of using voice to shop," said Shilp Agarwal, CEO of Blutag.

"Voice commerce takes advantage of ambient computing, which means there are no browsers or apps to launch," he told the E-Commerce Times. "Users can express their purchasing intent much more quickly over voice than they can type."

Brands are realizing that they must find their voice in this new world.

"Voice is a much more natural experience for humans than typing, which is a big part of what I think is driving consumer adoption of voice commerce," observed Darin Archer, chief strategy officer at Elastic Path.

"As the tech becomes good enough that my Alexa can almost always give me a coherent -- if not eloquent and helpful -- response, no matter what I throw at it, it's no wonder the tech is starting to move away from niche novelty to real commerce touchpoint," he told the E-Commerce Times.

It's also cheaper and simpler than ever for consumers to get started with voice assistants.

"There is a low barrier to entry when it comes to voice commerce devices," noted Agarwal. "Smart speakers are relatively inexpensive and easy to set up. For under $100, you can buy a Google or Amazon smart speaker capable of processing human language and executing tens of thousands of functions. Setting devices up for voice commerce is as simple as connecting a payment method and learning the particular shopping commands associated with certain smart speakers."

Voice Lessons

For voice commerce to be successful, voice assistants must be as conversational as possible.

"Implementing an effective voice shopping strategy takes time and effort," said Agarwal. "Businesses can't simply create a voice shopping assistant and expect it to generate meaningful value overnight. Deploying voice applications requires an entirely unique set of skills compared to other modes of e-commerce."

Another important element of effective voice commerce is providing consumers with a consistent experience across channels.

"Voice commerce poses several unique challenges to businesses," Agarwal pointed out.

"Retailers must consider multiple platforms -- like Alexa, Google Assistant, etc. -- as well as account for different types of devices, many with screens and many without," he explained.

"The difficulty lies in offering a consistent brand and shopping experience across all of these channels. One of the mistakes many companies are making is that they are using the same teams who built their e-commerce sites to create voice applications," said Agarwal. "Voice commerce represents an entirely new technology and requires specialized talent."

Ultimately, the more natural voice commerce feels, the more likely consumers will be to turn to it.

"Voice experiences are constantly getting better, which makes it possible to support more kinds of experiences in more user-friendly ways," said Dustin Coates, voice search lead at Algolia.

"Voice experiences, when done right, can be so easy and frictionless. 'Alexa, order more cat food,' is now such an easy way to reorder a product you've purchased before while you are in the kitchen, in the moment, without having to stop what you are doing or log into an app," he told the E-Commerce Times.

"Unfortunately, many experiences are not so easy and seamless, which breaks the implicit promise expected of every voice application," Coates said.

Successful voice interactions require brands to go beyond search engine optimization terms into the realm of artificial intelligence and natural language, which promise an intuitive understanding of what a consumer is trying to say.

"Brands need to reconsider their product content," said Chris Dessi, vice president for the Americas at Productsup.

"Keywords still matter, but it's not just text-based SEO. Now your product has to be the answer to someone's question," he told the E-Commerce Times.

"Brands need to use a conversational tone and think about what questions their product could answer. Shorter, on-point product descriptions are key, and local considerations shouldn't be ignored. Someone on their way home might stop by your shop if you've answered their questions," said Dessi.

Integration across platforms and between stores and a variety of other touchpoints is also important to a successful voice commerce strategy.

"Shoppers need to feel like voice commerce is integrated with the rest of the buying experience," said Elastic Path's Archer.

"The purchases they've made in store, on mobile and online should all be unified, so that when a shopper says, 'Order me the running shoes I bought last time,' the brand and consumer are on the same page," he advised.

"Brands also need to ensure they're flexible enough to translate the same buying experience from voice assistant devices to mobile assistants like Siri, and eventually across a whole host of touchpoints that may not even exist yet," Archer said.

Future Voice

As AI-enabled voice interactions with brands evolve, they likely will become a part of everyday life, both for shopping and for customer service more broadly.

"The future is bright," said Productsup's Dessi. "According to eMarketer, smart speakers represent the fastest-growing technology since smartphones. And they're not the only devices driving voice commerce, as consumers also use voice assistants on smartphones, laptops and smart TVs. It's evolving rather quickly and changing not just itself, but how we interact with brands and life at large."

The voice assistants of the future ultimately will need to embody the spirit and personality of a brand.

"A switch from visual to audio will mean brands have to reconsider how to connect customers with a brand identity that is built around voice and personality," said Naji El-Arifi, head of innovation at Wunderman Thompson Commerce.

"It's a shift that needs to be considered now, before voice becomes the major interface for the shopping experience," he told the E-Commerce Times.

Over time, voice-assisted communications are likely to become less a novelty and more a normal part of day-to-day interactions between brands and consumers.

"Conversational commerce is evolving from focusing on once-in-a-while customer service issues to covering daily transactions and connections," said Mariam Reza, SVP for Enterprise Go To Market at LivePerson.

"It's really becoming a part of people's everyday lives," she told the E-Commerce Times. "For example, conversational ordering of food and drink is growing in popularity. We view this as a natural progression: Once consumers experience conversational commerce for customer service, they see the value of doing more with brands in this new, better experience."


Vivian Wagner has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. Her main areas of focus are technology, business, CRM, e-commerce, privacy, security, arts, culture and diversity. She has extensive experience reporting on business and technology for a variety of outlets, including The Atlantic, The Establishment and O, The Oprah Magazine. She holds a PhD in English with a specialty in modern American literature and culture. She received a first-place feature reporting award from the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists. Email Vivian.


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