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GUEST COMMENT Online purchases yet to find a ‘voice’

Argos and Google have found their voice – can you?

Virtual assistants are already playing a critical role in running our lives. Whether it is asking Alexa to play your favourite song, turn off the lights or purchase a fresh supply of groceries, virtual assistants are making ‘life admin’ a whole lot easier and blurring the lines between human and technology.

Early efforts to implement voice assistants were awkward, simplistic, and impractical. But the monotone, robotic interfaces of the past have been replaced by today’s lively personal assistants, in some cases with the ability to listen, understand, and respond intelligently in real time. The development of technology has been incredible, and this really opens the possibility of what we can achieve in the future with voice assistants in the world of commerce.

What’s more, in an increasingly contactless world voice technology shows no signs of on slowing down. In the UK, seven out of ten people use a voice assistant every day up from four out of ten just a couple of years ago.  Globally, digital voice assistants are expected to triple to eight billion by 2023, propelled using voice technology in smart TVs, wearables, and smart speakers.

With such a boom predicted in this space, businesses looking to stay relevant in today’s competitive climate cannot afford to ignore voice commerce. Just as we saw with the online shopping revolution, where merchants who were slow to open online stores or cater to consumers using computers, phones or tablets found it difficult to compete with those offering a compelling online shopping experience, it’s likely the same will happen with voice-enabled payments in the next few years.

The commercial potential of voice commerce is also being realised by the range of devices that can be accessed with voice user interfaces (VUIs)—game consoles, TVs, cars, smart watches, cable and satellite TV providers, even refrigerators. We can already use such devices to get the weather forecast, check the traffic and do an internet search to see who holds the marathon world record, but this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the full potential of this technology. Indeed, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Samsung’s Bixby are all aggressively seeking to expand their multiplatform capabilities.

Amazon, being the online retail giant that it is, obviously had an innate advantage and head start in the voice commerce market. Despite this, technology leader Google found that it could be competitive by creating strategic partnerships with the likes of Ocado to offer their customers the option of voice payments.

Enabling voice payments will also enable merchants to provide a more expansive and personalized experience to customers, thereby improving the connection between merchant and end consumer. Indeed, shoppers in the UK are already using voice technology to check delivery status, make shopping lists, and to search and compare products.

Yet, it’s important not to forget that voice technology can also be used to search for services and less traditional goods – consumers are already using voice technology and applications, such as map apps, to find fun things to do, such as find a restaurant or enjoy a sightseeing tour. Merchants offering these services should not overlook these areas to help expand their customer base and increase revenues.

So how can retail merchants use voice payments to their advantage? The key is optimising  products and services across an array of platforms enabling them to be highlighted by search engine algorithms. Merchants must have their who, what, when, where, why, and how, ready to go so search engines can easily find the information consumers are looking for. 

Voice recognition technology is proving effective in a wide range of practical applications today—yet while it may only be a matter of time until voice commerce takes off, there are still a few roadblocks to fulfilling its commercial potential.

A 2019 Forrester Research study found voice assistants to have a high rate of failure when it came to specific commerce questions. Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google’s Google Home – Connected Home Assistant combined only provide what were deemed useful answers to 35 percent of voice searches.

Additionally, the best shopping experiences have a strong visual component that enables casual discovery. According to the Worldpay for FIS Global Payments Report, UK shoppers in particular gravitate towards shopping on their phones, with online sales through mobile devices increasing 13 percent per year. The first generation of voice-enabled devices tended to be audio-only, making browsing impractical. That’s changing as screens are added to voice assistants, like Amazon’s Echo Show, Google’s Nest Home Hub, and Lenovo’s Smart Display.

The security of voice commerce is another important consideration in the march towards widespread adoption. Security is a paramount concern to shoppers: according to a recent Amazon Pay consumer survey, almost half of respondents were most concerned about the safety of their personal and financial information.

As brands constantly innovate to integrate more meaningful, intimate relationships with consumers, the potential of voice connected commerce looks set to increase. And, given the intimacy of voice—we can expect voice commerce to advance as a powerful tool in closing the distance between desire and its fulfillment.

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