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Apple enters voice control market with HomePod: what does it mean for retail?

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One of the highlights of Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference was the launch of HomePod, the company’s much-anticipated voice controlled speaker – but what does it mean for retail?

While pitched as a high-end wireless speaker that you can also talk to, it is clear to all that this is Apple’s attempt at an Amazon Alexa killer and Google Home wrecker. But with Alexa owning much of the space and projected to control 70% of the voice speaker market by year’s end, is this too late?

New data from the 2017 version of Walker Sands’ Future of Retail Report – to be released later this month – reveals this could actually be perfect timing: while nearly 24% already own a voice-controlled device another 20 percent plan to purchase one in the next year. Apple also has an opportunity to jump right: voice devices are taking over the commerce scene, with the report also revealing 1 in 5 consumers have made voice-controlled purchases, and another third planning to do so in the next year.

So how will this impact the future of commerce?

Nick Manzo, Global Omnichannel Lead from 1WorldSync, thinks that when it comes to retail, speakers like this “Introduce new challenges for retail supply chain, logistics, and product information management processes,” he says. “Voice-controlled devices are changing the nature of omnichannel commerce. Brands and retailers need to have systems in place to communicate key value offerings while maintaining consistency and authenticity across all channels.”

Igor Gorin, CEO of Astound Commerce, meanwhile believes that: “Just like mail-order, physical store, website or a mobile, digital assistants should be viewed as a separate channel due to unique user experience and interaction model.”

However, “While Apple Siri and Google Home are more of a neutral party to ecommerce and more in the business of information and convenience,” it’s Amazon that’s best poised here, “as the company is an online retail behemoth with more and more direct product lines and their own private label brands.”

Kate Hogenson, a loyalty strategy consultant at Kobie Marketing, believes there are loyalty implications of the connected home for Apple and for companies that leverage virtual assistants to connect with customers — like Starbucks did with voice ordering functionality on Amazon-branded Alexa.

What is clear is that HomePod cements the fact that voice is now a force to be reckoned with in how consumers interact with brands and retailers – and it will impact every aspect of how retailers and brands do business.

According to Bob Elfanbaum, co-head of WWT Asynchrony Labs, “HomePod is not the only indication of voice control’s growing primacy to come out of this year’s Developer Conference. Improvements to Siri are coming in September as part of iOS 11. No company that is currently developing apps – for either consumer or business use – can afford to ignore this. We will soon see iOS apps that don’t include native voice control and messaging as a minimum go the way of the dodo.”

Ben Boswell, UK & Ireland Director of World Wide Technology (WWT), which acquired WWT Asynchrony Labs in June 2015, and which is opening an Asynchrony development lab in London, warns that companies are in danger of missing the turning point on voice-activated technology.

He says: “Products like Amazon’s Alexa have been on the market for a while, and the significance of Apple’s announcements this year are not that they introduce anything especially new. Instead, they signal that the ship will soon have sailed on voice-activation.

“App development is a cut-throat area of digital business, and one in which ease of use is a massive contributor to success. Improvements in voice assistants are continuing apace and this is a gift to those companies that can get on board. For companies developing voice for front-end consumer apps or other business tools, collaborating with an R&D partner is going to be increasingly important.”

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