In today’s world, consumers expect to connect with a store’s customer service representative, or purchase an item whenever they want to, from wherever they are. It is also expected that this point of contact be uncomplicated and easy to navigate.
Looking back at the past 12 months, it is clear voice is poised to be the next frontier of the retail digital experience. Voice is proving to be the best answer to retailers’ ongoing pursuit to build technologies that give customers exactly what they crave from digital interactions – convenience and ease of use – creating a frictionless customer journey along the path to purchase.
Prior to the mainstream adoption of voice interfaces, digital communication between customers and brands was limited to live chat. While this proved to be a viable solution for customers to reach retailers on the go, ultimately customers expected more. Text-based communication was quickly downgraded to no longer convenient, it became a nuisance.
Retailers jumped on the voice bandwagon quickly after Amazon released the first Echo, and even more so as Google, and now Apple, quickly followed up with their own products. We’ve seen retailers creating programs that work with Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home skills, incorporating predictive analytics based on geolocation, previous behavior data, to intelligently interact with customers. Major retailers such as Walmart and Target announced recent partnerships with Google Home making aggressive pushes to put conversational interfaces at the forefront of their customer acquisition and conversion strategies. It’s clear they are realizing the advantages voice technology gives them to compete with the e-commerce dominance of Amazon.
Voice activated experiences now open new paths in the customer journey. How can retailers effectively use these platforms to engage all possible customers?
Always on Connections – The wide adoption of the Amazon Echo and Google Home, in a relatively short period of time, has revolutionized how connected people are. Consumers now have direct access to AI in every room of their home, on their mobile device, and even in their cars – thus giving retailers access to shoppers pretty much 24/7. These invisible, voice-based interfaces allow customers to interact with retailers in a very natural way, that doesn’t feel intrusive, but offers benefits directly to the shopper that outweigh their concerns about purchasing through a voice assistant.
In-Home Marketplaces – One large opportunity is in the creation of new marketplaces for shoppers. Retailers are now able to offer customers a branded “skill” or “action” which creates a direct line to the store without having to leave home, or even the interference of a device. But, the real value in a voice-activated marketplace for retailers is when shoppers need to replenish their supplies. There is no greater convenience for a shopper (at least at the moment) then being able to re-order an item simply by asking Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant.
Simplified Purchases – One of the biggest barriers between a customer and a purchase is the complexity of the shopping experience. The more difficult items are to find, or the longer the checkout process, the less likely they are to make it all the way through to purchase. Remembering customer preferences, analyzing purchase history, browsing data, customer profile, current location, and unique customer asks, voice technology can offer personalized product suggestions or act as an invisible sales assistant, suggesting upsells that align with customer preferences. It also offers the advantage of having customer data such as, preferred shipping address and credit cards, stored to make checkout a simple voice command.
At the end of the day, as with any new technology, there are risks for retailers adopting voice enabled digital interfaces, but the retailers not making the leap will be left behind in the next 12 to 24 months. Any brand or retailer who wants to compete and avoid becoming the next headline in the retail crisis must evaluate what role voice will play for their customers.
-Michael Levine, VP of Marketing at Photon.in.
Photon is one of the largest pure-play digital agencies in the world, and the digital transformation partner for 37 of the Fortune 100 across Financial Services, Retail and Healthcare/CPG.