Voice assistants are speaking up and being heard: 78% of global consumers have used them to research and buy products and services, create shopping lists or check order status, according to the Smart Talk: How organizations and consumers are embracing voice and chat assistants report from Capgemini. Additionally, 53% of consumers in the U.S., UK, France and Germany have already used a voice assistant to actually buy products in 2019, compared to 35% in 2017.
Despite this growth, just 23% of companies in the consumer products and retail space have deployed voice assistants. Their hesitation is somewhat understandable: 40% of those now using voice assistants started doing so in the last year, and another 43% started using them three or fewer years ago. It’s one thing to order a few small items through voice, and another entirely to make the channel a regular part of one’s shopping habits — but that will likely change with time.
"We strongly believe that the reason why people like voice is that it is probably the most natural way to interact and to convey your ideas,” said Genevieve Chamard, North American Partnership Strategy Leader, Digital Retail and Manufacturing at Capgemini in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “The main challenge today is convincing the customer that the technology is really trustworthy and can actually do what they want it to do. They may be reticent to truly believe in and use voice, but as it gets better and better that will change.”
Chamard identified three building blocks retailers should focus on as they develop their voice commerce capabilities:
- Natural Language Processing: The primary advantage voice has over other channels is that it lets shoppers communicate naturally rather than relying on rigid, carefully worded search queries. As this technology gets better, online ordering can become more fluid.
- Machine Learning: Understanding plain language is just the first step; voice commerce systems also will need to understand context. For example, voice assistants will need to understand and respond properly when similar queries are asked in different contexts.
- Personalization: More than any other channel, voice assistants will need to understand the customer who is speaking with them. Knowing a shoppers’ preferences can help the interaction feel like a conversation between friends rather than a transaction made through a machine.
Assistants Can Give AI Insights A Human Touch
Combining these building blocks will help create a humanized retail experience, which should be a key goal for voice commerce. Capgemini’s research found that nearly 64% of consumers want AI to be more human-like, with nearly half saying they would display greater loyalty to a company and a higher propensity to spend. With voice assistants specifically, 58% of consumers would like to personalize theirs, for example by defining its personality (53%), giving it a name (55%) or, most importantly for retailers, watching it learn and adapt to their own personality over time (60%).
Helping voice assistants develop more personality could make them better at their jobs. For simple purchases that only require a small number of questions, more shoppers trust product recommendations from voice assistants (54%) than salespeople (49%). But 55% trust salespeople compared to 48% who trust voice assistants when it comes high-involvement, high-consideration purchases. These trust numbers could change as the machines become more human-like and offer better recommendations backed by powerful insights.
“I feel there is a tremendous opportunity to invest in a strong artificial intelligence engine and be able to really talk to each and every customer in a very personalized way,” said Chamard. “It's one thing to use voice for basic research, but it's much more compelling if you can let someone research and then have it refer to their customer profile and start recommending products that are unique to this person.”
Voice Should Be Part Of An Omnichannel Ecosystem
While voice chat has a lot of potential, it’s never going to eliminate e-Commerce or brick-and-mortar. Retailers need to look at voice as another channel and option on the wider customer journey. For instance, a potential path to purchase may start with preliminary research through a car’s voice assistant, continue with in-depth product discovery through a tablet and end after try-on and purchase in-store.
This means voice can and should be used as part of an omnichannel approach to retail, and traditional e-Commerce elements are a natural fit: 63% of shoppers believe that related images on a nearby screen would improve the voice chat experience, while 64% feel the same way about video and 65% about textual information. Voice commerce leaders — companies that show high maturity in both organizational capability and customer centricity in their capabilities — recognize this potential: 71% offer images on associated screens, compared to 39% among all companies that have voice commerce capabilities.
Making voice commerce a standard part of the customer journey will take a combination of time and effort, but retailers don’t want to get left behind as the technology matures. Adoption has been steadily growing among consumers, and companies that get ahead of the curve will be the first to reap the benefits of this new retail channel.
"I think a lot of retailers thought that having a voice assistant meant just having the skill enabled on Alexa or Google Home, and they didn't invest in the customer experience,” said Chamard. “I like to go back to when we started to have smartphones: retailers thought that the smartphone itself would provide the optimal experience. Then they realized no, you have to design the mobile app in order for the customer to have the right experience and the right interactions. Now retailers need to invest a certain amount of money and time into ensuring voice assistants offer customers that right experience.”