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GUEST COMMENT Time to speak up: how retailers can use voice to stay competitive

One in three consumers would be happy to authorise a payment using voice recognition on a mobile phone or home device, according to recent research from WorldPay. Even more tellingly, 77% of consumers who own a voice-activated digital assistant (such as Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant) already have a payment option connected to it.

We often talk about the future of payments being tied up with voice – but this is misleading because it is already happening today. There are more than 100 million users of Alexa-enabled devices and more than 52 million users of Google Home smart assistants globally. There is now a larger number of people being able to make voice purchases than the entire population of the UK, Germany or France. In retail circles, we don’t talk about this as the next big thing in the way we talk about Apple Pay or Android Pay, but perhaps we should start doing so.

Consumers detest having to navigate through long sequences of clicks and options when they want to buy something; who hasn’t abandoned buying an item because the checkout process was cumbersome? Voice assisted payments represent a real opportunity for online retailers to improve the checkout experience, gain an edge over competitors, and, ultimately, increase their sales.

Frictionless payments are critical

When it comes to any form of online payment, whether it’s for a high-value item, a subscription renewal, or an everyday purchase, creating a friction-free, seamless payment journey should be a top priority for all retailers. Arduous, slow, and lengthy checkout processes are a leading cause of shopping cart abandonment, and retailers using voice to guide customers over this finish line could see a considerable improvement in conversion rates.

In order to illustrate the advantages of voice-assisted payments, we need only look at the current industry gold standard, the “one-click payment”. This method, used mainly by larger retailers, allows consumers to purchase items using pre-set delivery options and payment methods – all with just a single click. However, this is not entirely true for all ecommerce websites. In reality, especially for smaller retailers with less sophisticated digital experiences, this “one-click” involves loading the website/ app, finding and selecting the item, adding the item to the cart, and then inputting a written or biometric password. The higher the number of clicks required to purchase, the lower the conversion rate.

Compare this to voice-assisted payments, where it is possible to complete a purchase without a single physical touch. Using a simple spoken commandment, such as “Device, order laundry detergent”, and biometric voice authentication, consumers are able to purchase goods in an instant – and with a far more intuitive process than manual typed methods. This concept works particularly well for repetitive orders, such as replenishment subscriptions for everyday items, which account for 35% of voice-assisted transactions, according to Capgemini. Consumers value the time-saving ease of voice-assisted payments made from the comfort of their own home, provided the service is fast, accurate, and simple. In fact, over 40% of customers would prefer to use a voice assistant over a mobile app or website, up from 24% three years ago, according to this research.

Accessing new markets

The competition to grab consumer attention represents one of the biggest hurdles for retailers. Efforts to engage us have become increasingly exaggerated, ranging from KFC’s gravy-scented candle to a Carlsberg billboard which dispensed genuine pints. Whilst retailers have been focused on these awareness building stunts, many have missed one of the key opportunities to really get their customers talking – using their own voice.

According to Capgemini, 48% of those who use voice assistants to purchase goods cited the ability to complete tasks “hands-free” as one of the biggest reasons for using the service – retailers who respond to this can gain access to entirely new markets. The proliferation of the Internet of Things, whether an in-vehicle voice assistant or a smart fridge, has allowed consumers to make purchases wherever, and whenever they choose. Using voice technology, shoppers can book an MOT whilst driving, schedule a meeting from another room, or order their weekly groceries whilst cooking dinner.

Voice technology enables people to feel in control of their retail journey, and the levels of personalisation they are offered. The ability to use their native language, accent and dialect resonates with consumers who are tired of gimmicks. That’s not to say there isn’t room for humour – Siri’s jokes and anecdotes are famous for a reason, after all – but in a marketplace full of clutter, consumers simply want to cut to the chase.

As the traditional retail sector continues to struggle, innovation is needed to keep up with changing consumer demands. In order to thrive, retailers must keep one finger steadily on the pulse of the market, and the proliferation of voice-enabled devices represents a real opportunity to gain a competitive edge while the market is still relatively unsaturated.

Author: Richard Downs, head of UK, Applause

Image credit: Fotolia

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