How Voice Technology Could Transform Retail

Voice technology, which has begun to change home life through digital assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home, may also transform the world of retail.

A report by OC&C Strategy Consultants, which was released last month, indicates that by 2022, shopping done through voice-activated technology could spike by 48%. It also discovered that 10% of UK households owned a smart speaker as of December, 2017. It is predicted that this will rise to 48% by the year 2022. While 16% have used them to make a purchase, a much larger 40% have done so in the US.

“Voice technology taps into the move towards frictionless retailing and the need to make it easier and easier to purchase products, both in terms of the process and enabling customers to buy something exactly when they want it,” said Will Haylarr, partner and global head of consumer goods at OC&C.

“Having these kinds of assistants in the house is something we’re becoming more and more used to – we now shout questions across the room to a device, rather than manually typing them into a search engine,” said Emily Mace, head of SEO at marketing agency Oban International.

OC&C recently found that so far, simple purchases such as toothpaste and light bulbs make up the bulk of activity. Consumers knew exactly what they wanted to buy. However, fashion retailers can find opportunities in this space as well. CEO Nick Beighton of Asos has earmarked the voice over visual search tech for development in the future.

“There are a number of things that are interesting to us about voice,”  Sean McKee, director of ecommerce and customer experience at footwear specialist Schuh said. “The first thing is that we can see large numbers of potential customers are already consuming the technology. We’re in the mass market, so whenever we see something lots of consumers are using, our ears prick up,” he says. “It feels intuitive. Straight away we can see a use for voice within some basic routine interactions, which are quite labour intensive for consumers on mobile and labour intensive for us, such as order tracking or stock questions.”

A 2018 report by Capgemini discovered that 24% of shoppers would find voice assistants preferable to physical stores or apps, with predictions saying that figure will rise to 40% in the next three years. However, Bhavesh Unadkat, the principal consultant in retail customer engagement at Capgemini, stressed the point that integration is the key to creating value for customers.

“It can’t be treated as an isolated channel,” Unadkat said. ”This isn’t about introducing technology that simply means customers can order a limited number of products by voice. There needs to be complete convergence – the journey could start with a customer saying, ‘show me the cheapest pair of 34-inch waist Diesel blue jeans’ and smart assistants responding, not just with which retailer has the product, but with which stores nearby have it in stock, if the item can be reserved and when it can be collected. Once the order has been made, the assistants need to talk to the retailer and let the customer know when the jeans are ready to collect.”

“There’s a real opportunity for voice to use behavioral and contextual data to drive more relevant insight than search engines can currently with word searches. If you type something into Google, you get a million generic search results. Smart assistants should be capable of looking at your previous searches and order history to offer relevant products. Say, for example, I’m searching for child’s clothing. This assistant should know enough about me to know I have a toddler and show me products for that age group.”