Will Voice Assistant Technology Improve the Retailer-Consumer Relationship?

The rise of virtual assistants means big things for retailers, and like the shift from desktop to mobile, those paying the most attention to voice as a channel now will win later. Mark Sullivan, Director of Demand Generation at CallRail elaborates how Alexa and other voice assistants will shape the future of the retail industry

Amazon announced Alexa would place orders on Prime Now in late March, making it the fastest voice-assisted ordering option in market. Combining the ease of hands-free shopping with two-hour delivery for items in select cities, Amazon positions itself as the leader in voice assistant technology and again elevates what consumers expect from their e-commerce experiences.

With Amazon accounting for more than half (53 percent) of all online sales growth in the U.S. in 2016, businesses have ample reason to link up with the e-commerce giant, and fast. Voice assistant technology has implications for every industry, but those for retailers are particularly exciting and, perhaps more importantly, profitable. And it makes sense. If it’s speaking that (in part) makes us human, maybe it’s only natural that we start ordering by voice, too.

Voice assistant technologies are becoming a fixture in more homes and in more pockets thanks to Alexa’s new availability on mobile devices. As price sensitivity and traditional, tactile touchpoints take a backseat, retailers should focus on key conveniences of voice assistant technology:

Reduced Time and Effort

 A hallmark of e-commerce is the joy and ease of having something delivered right to your doorstep. Voice assistant technology will only cement this expectation for shoppers, as a consumer can easily tell Alexa to complete a purchase from the comfort of his or her own home. While this is already true of mobile, voice assistants offer greater convenience by making the purchasing process even less disruptive and hands-free. For purchases that are best served with a phone call, for example, these devices will be in a good position to even resurrect the convenience of the home phone.

 The convenience of devices like Alexa will only grow over time. Just like a smartphone or desktop computer, Alexa can also store information such as search and purchase history, and learn more about its owner over time. With enough information, voice assistants can leverage previous buying behaviors to determine when a consumer needs to reorder a product, or link with other smart home devices to do the same.

No Passwords

Like fingerprints for smartphones, voices will act as purchasing permission for orders placed via voice assistant technology. Used as a digital identity, a consumer’s voice can be linked to key commerce needs like payment information, delivery address and more.

As voice-based devices evolve, the potential to further personalize shopping experiences based on voice will arise. When equipped with leading natural language software, Alexa could comprehend a user’s unique vocal register to make informed purchasing decisions based on context and previous buying behaviors. For example, two members of the same household may have different products in mind when asking Alexa to order laundry detergent. Alexa can link each person’s voice with a specific product and make personalized ordering decisions based off of what has been learned about each person over time.

 Combined with other contextual information available online (store hours, location, etc.), retailers can support voice-assisted ordering to make the path to purchase as seamless for consumers as possible. Not only does a shopper no longer have to remember his password and credit card information, but the friction of making a purchase decisions entirely can be removed thanks to the intelligence and advanced capabilities of voice assistant technologies.

Retailers must always know their technology advancements ask consumers to relinquish common trust signals and rely on retailers more than ever before. When a consumer browses Amazon for products, he or she can easily access related information like price, reviews, product details and more. When ordering via voice assistant technology, these details are often inaccessible or unavailable.

 This is not a deal breaker, of course, but retailers must navigate what’s lost with what’s gained. In today’s e-commerce environment, this means balancing the allure of conveniences with the full disclosure consumers require before making a purchase.

It’s also important to note that while voice assistant technology may be tomorrow’s biggest trend, it’s not for every retailer. Consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands, for instance, are primed to master voice-assisted ordering, as their inventory is standardized and consumers have predetermined preferences. Apparel companies, on the other hand, will find it tough to flourish in a world of artificial intelligence. Considerations such as size and style translate less effectively to a non-tactile/visual purchasing model.

Embracing Voice Assisted Technology Starts Now for Marketers

Taking a step back, it’s worth remembering why consumers enjoy voice assistants in the first place — convenience. This is the very same convenience inherent in voice interactions generally that has led to a recent explosion of phone calls to businesses. While popular channels like SMS and social dominate today’s conversations, phone calls remain the voice option many customers prefer. There was a 16 percent increase in call volume for companies when comparing the first quarter of 2017 to the first quarter of 2016, with increases peaking at 25 percent in the month of January alone.

Voice assistant technology is a modern application built around this convenience, solving for the growing expectation for instant answers and information. Retailers can take advantage of voice trends by closely monitoring voice-based interactions and conversations. In the same way businesses that paid close attention to the rise of mobile over desktop had the upper hand, today’s retailers can stay ahead of competitors by exploring 21st-century metrics (web activity, calls, SMS, inventory) to learn what efforts drive results.

While these marketers may not yet understand how voice assistant technology will impact their businesses, the biggest mistake they can make now is waiting around to see.

This article was originally published on MarTech Advisor

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