M-Retailing

Siri, what impact are you going to have on retail?

The launch this week of the Siri-enabled HomePod by Apple marks a late-out-the-gate move by the tech giant, now playing catch up behind both Google and Amazon. But with these three voice-controlled device now out there – and some 25% of people already owning one before Apple leapt into the market – it is inevitable that voice is going to become one of the ways in which consumers interact with the web.

And this is going to have in an inevitable impact on retail across the board.

Of course there are going to be tie ups between retailers and these three voice platforms, much as Tesco has already done with Google Home, and many luminaries have already popped up to outline how they think voice controlled devices are going to reshape retail, but I think it goes way deeper than that and throws up some choice challenges for retailers.

For starters, these devices are just the vanguard of voice control. A device in the living room that you can speak to, telling it what you want to buy or add to your shopping list is really just the opening gambit. Telling HomePod to add spuds to your Grocery list is relatively straightforward, even if Apple is selling this as a groovy speaker that you can instruct Siri to play stuff on, it will become like Home and Alexa, assuming Siri can keep up.

Where it gets interesting is that voice control is going to not only be the preserve of these devices, but also off all devices: it will be the way we interrogate the web.

This means that voice control in retail is not just a matter of building out platforms that can handle voice inputs from these ‘home’ devices, but also to voice enable websites and apps.

This isn’t just fanciful thinking inspired by another Apple hoopla-laden developer conference, but something driven by the other big game in retail: engagement.

It has become accepted wisdom that, in the age of abundance, consumers want more of an experience from retailers. This has become so over-powering that now the majority of execs in retail boardrooms rate customer experience as more important than marketing and even sales as a priority.

Voice control, as it gains acceptance in the home, is going to become the driver of much of this experience on the mobile when out and about and it is what is going to shape how retail in store and on the web work.

Research shows that people are willing to spend more and keep coming back for more if they get a meaningful experience. And voice interaction is likely to be one of the key drivers therein.

But is the technology and are the retailers able to make this happen? While HomePod came as no surprise (apart from perhaps its dreadful name and the fact that it looks a bit like some sort of elaborate air freshener), it does beg the question that to be truly useful – and for me to even contemplate buying one – Siri needs to really up its game. I asked “Siri, what is your impact on retail going to be?” and she said: “I’d rather talk about your calendar and dinner plans, Paul”

Quite.

Joking aside, we stand at a crossroads here. Customers will want voice interaction – we’ve wanted it ever since we saw Star Trek in the 1960s – and we want it to be intuitive and to work every time. With Siri, I don’t feel that confident.

Hopefully, being built into something that is one of the biggest diversifications in Apple’s modern history – this is perhaps the biggest shift in what it makes since the iPhone – surely Apple has some sort of Siri upgrade up its sleeve to make it work?

With that in place – and with Google and Amazon constantly upping their game too in voice control – retail is set for quite a transformation.