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ANALYSIS Argos ‘Voice Shop’ launch is a brave move – and one driven by mobile

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Argos has become the latest retailer to join the growing throng of forward thinkers who are voice-enabling their ecommerce. Launching Voice Shop, the company has got in to bed with Google Home to let shoppers reserve 20,000 Argos items to collect from store.

The Voice Shop service launches at a time when smart speakers are increasingly taking up residence in British homes. According to a YouGov study, one in ten households in the UK now has a digital home assistant and voice shopping is forecast to be worth £3.5 billion in the UK by 2022 . Sales of smart speakers have grown 151% year-on-year at Argos.

In fact, recent research by Adobe suggests that half of US households will have a smart speaker of some description by the end of 2018 – with many getting one to service Black Friday or as Christmas presents. 

With six in ten sales at Argos now start online, yet 80% of orders being fulfilled in-store as shoppers take advantage of its Click & Collect and Fast Track services, the addition of Voice Shop looks to make sense.  Some 95% of people in the UK live within ten miles of an Argos store, so it seems to stack up that they would order via app, website or voice, to collect at their convenience from a nearby store rather than wait in for a delivery.

It’s all about mobile

The Argos offering is essentially an add-on to its Click and Collect service and, while it places Argos in the rarefied group of retailers deploying voice commerce, what marks it out is that the retailer has opted to go with Google.

While there may be around 3 million Amazon Alexa devices in the UK, according to stats from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), Argos has opted to go with the less popular Google Home ecosystem. However it isn’t as counter-intuitive as it seems. Google may have fewer smart speakers in homes, but it does also have the Google Assistant app that does the same thing on iOS and Android phones. Argos, cleverly opted for reach on mobile to make this new service work.

And this is where their customers actually are. While Salmon’s recent research showed 55% of shoppers said they like purchasing through voice-activated devices, the proportion of people with one is actually minute compared to the number of people with an Argos app on their smartphone. The fact that this work’s on Google Home is a great headline-grabber, but this is actually a mobile play.

Voice problems

However, looking at the implications of voice commerce generally, it is still a bold move. Shopping looks to be moving towards voice, but not smoothly.  The Adobe study paints a murkier picture, suggesting that the most common voice activities today are asking for music (70%) and the weather forecast (64%). Other popular activities include things like asking fun questions (53%), online search (47%), checking the news (46%), making a call (36%), basic research or confirming information (35%), asking directions (34%).

However, controlling the smart home using voice commands was only used by 31% of device owners, despite smart home controls being a key feature of these newer devices.

The study also somewhat contradicted an earlier report by The Information, which said that only 2% of Alexa owners made a purchase using their voice. Though Adobe’s research looked at the overall smart speaker market in the U.S., not just Alexa devices, it didn’t find the same trend. Instead, it found that 30% of smart speaker owners used the devices for “shopping or ordering items.”

While not one of the top voice activities, it’s an activity Adobe pegged as an “emerging use case,” along with others like food delivery, sending messages, play games, smart home commands, travel research and managing finances.

And there are other concerns. According to Salmon, 78% of consumers still have concerns over voice shopping such as devices listening in to conversations and 83% ordering items without their permission.

Further research by Paysafe suggests that more than two-thirds (67%) of UK consumers were also concerned that these systems were not secure, while 69% were worried they’d be overcharged. As of June 2018, just under a quarter (22%) had tried using a voice-activated payments system.

“[The Argos’ move] does represent a sea-change in how ecommerce companies should be approaching innovation and communication – and these numbers will surely subside as shopping via Google Home and Amazon Echo becomes easier and smarter,” says Naji El-Arifi, Global Head of Innovation at Salmon. “As voice and gesture devices become more mainstream, and even brain-computer interfacing edges ever closer to reality, retailers and brands need to act early to make a play in the market; voice experiences takes time to develop, require plenty of AI training and trial-and-error before they can be fully functioning. They should also look to own every interface and touchpoint with the customer. After all, if you own the interface, you own the customer.”

John Rogers, Chief Executive Officer at Argos, however, remains bullish. “Voice technology has the potential to revolutionise how we shop in the future,” he says. “Digital home assistants have soared in popularity over the past year and people are increasingly looking to their smart devices to help with the smooth running of their lives.”

Rogers continues: “Argos is a digitally-led business at the forefront of technology and it’s really exciting that we are harnessing the simplicity of voice ordering with the convenience and popularity of Click & Collect to make our customers’ lives easier. We predict that the Voice Shop service will be a big hit and we will develop and refine the offer further as we get feedback from our customers.”

Image: Argos

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