Originally published on CMO.com December 2019
Since the introduction of cloud-based voice services earlier this decade, business executives like you have likely considered how voice assistants fit into your commerce strategy. Or perhaps you've already put them to work.
As with any emerging technology, some prefer to wait and watch, while others are eager to jump right in. The approach you take depends on whether you consider voice commerce as a passing fad or a real opportunity.
Me? I see it as the latter. Here's why.
Cutting Edge Yet Old School
Voice services pose an interesting conundrum. On one hand, they can be viewed as the next era of commerce, after e-commerce, m-commerce, and physical stores. On the other hand, they can be likened to a simpler time when consumers simply asked for products they needed—no typing or swiping, just good, ol’-fashioned conversation. Except now, those conversations are with cloud-based voice services like Alexa, which are becoming smarter by the day.
The voice-shopping experience can be both simple and novel. Customers appreciate this simplicity: In a 2019 Amazon Pay survey of 10,297 consumers across the globe (the results of which will be published next month), 44% of respondents indicated they are likely to use voice services in at least some part of their shopping journey in the next three years. Not surprisingly, the top two drivers of this intent are ease of use and speed.
Effective For Both In-The-Moment And Thoughtful Purchases
The need for speed does not mean compromising on thoughtful shopping experiences. Voice is a channel that works equally well for in-the-moment (routine and impulse) and deferred purchases. For example, if someone is doing laundry and runs out of detergent, the person can ask Alexa to reorder it at that very moment.
Similarly, imagine a person admires a friend’s new sneakers and considers purchasing a pair. While not ready to buy, the person doesn’t want to forget about them and so asks Alexa to add them to his or her cart in two different colors. The person then peruses the sneakers on the brand’s website, goes to a store to try them on, and finally buys a pair in the preferred color via a mobile app on a smartphone. In the days that follow, the person returns to Alexa and asks, “Where’s my stuff?”
This isn’t a utopian, pie-in-the-sky scenario. It is happening right now. Today, 39% of your customers are comfortable starting their shopping journey in one channel and ending it in another, our study found. However, only half said they are satisfied with the ability of companies to deliver such a cross-channel experience. With the advent of voice, we have opened a new chapter in enabling consumers to access products and services, either unto itself or as part of a series of customer touch points.
The Additive Effect
Whenever a technological shift happens, the assumption is the new technology will replace older ones. But the commerce space has shown that’s not true. Since the advent of digital technologies in the 1990s, retailers have incrementally adopted new channels, such as e-commerce and m-commerce, to complement—not replace—the in-store experience. This incremental trend is set to continue with the addition of voice.
In other words, don’t expect voice commerce to replace e-commerce, m-commerce, or physical stores. Rather, it will work with them, as I mapped out in the sneaker example above. This requires a holistic strategy to provide customers with a seamless, cross-channel commerce experience. The only way to do this is by considering voice not in isolation but as an integral part of your commerce strategy. It is also crucial to educate your organization about this channel overlap and help teams identify solutions to execute on this strategy.
So, is voice commerce a passing fad or a real opportunity? I strongly believe it is an opportunity worth seizing to deliver on the next level of customer expectations. Remember, with every new technology, early adopters come out a step ahead.