How to Improve the Retail Experience With Digital Voice
In 2020, the e-commerce industry saw a boom in popularity, with online spending accounting for 21.3 percent of total retail sales. With research suggesting that online purchases will make up half the growth in the global retail sector by 2025, retail marketers will need to get creative in how they attract, engage and retain customers.
In addition to e-commerce sales increasing, more brick-and-mortar locations are likely going to open in larger numbers this year as more people receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Therefore, retailers will need to cater to consumers who are now shopping in physical locations as well as online. To engage consumers while meeting their expectations in terms of convenience and offering better experiences, retail marketers can harness the power of voice technology.
Retail’s History With Voice Technology
In 2014, the first generation of smart speakers from a leading smart assistant provider was released, as the company bet that consumers would shop by voice in the years to come. For the first few years it was available, consumers could only re-order previously bought products by voice but now, users can buy any item they wish on multiple platforms, whether it’s a smart assistant, a mobile device or a tablet, among others. Currently, more than three billion people globally use voice-activated search and assistants, giving retailers a huge opportunity to engage with consumers on these devices as voice-based ordering becomes more popular.
Voice technology isn’t reserved just for smart assistants. Retailer H&M trialed a smart mirror in Times Square in 2018, which combined voice and facial recognition to communicate with consumers. Shoppers could tell the mirror to take selfies, and the mirror provided shopping tips. Reports suggested that more than 80 percent of shoppers had a positive experience when interacting with the mirror, and with voice technology becoming more ubiquitous, retailers have the opportunity to drive innovation.
COVID-19’s Impact on the Retail Industry
Once the pandemic became widespread in the spring of 2020, voice technology was used to provide information and entertainment to consumers in a convenient, contactless manner. Since consumers couldn’t go to physical stores for months at a time, e-commerce became the main way consumers shopped.
As more stores open to the public, retailers can continue to use the power of smart assistants in store settings to accommodate consumers’ preferences for contactless communications. Smart assistants can help in-store operations by welcoming shoppers; providing directions to certain aisles or products; and assisting shoppers as they check out. Additionally, grocery stores can use the power of voice technology to enable consumers to order deli, seafood and butcher items through voice-enabled technology instead of waiting in long lines. As e-commerce continues to be the go-to shopping method for many consumers too, retailers can implement conversational voice options on their websites to enable the ease of ordering and interactions with shoppers. With voice technology, retailers can provide helpful experiences that match consumers’ preferences, such as receiving help from store associates or ordering goods from the comfort of their home.
Evolution of Voice Technology
As consumers become more comfortable using voice technology in their everyday lives, brands will need to look to see how they can offer better experiences to stand out from the competition. Currently, most voices found on smart assistants all sound alike, which can make it hard for consumers to differentiate between retailers. To create more engaging experiences and deepen relationships with consumers, retailers can create custom digital voices that represent their brand personality and perception. These voices can be used across devices and touchpoints so that no matter where a consumer is engaging with voice technology, their experience is uniform and seamless. These voices are recognizable, engaging and memorable, creating trust between the retailer and their target audience.
To successfully build a digital voice, retailers can look to outside partners to help bring the voice to life. Retailers need to think about the tone of their brand, and the best voice that will bring it to life—for example, if a retailer sells sporting goods, a confident and relaxed coach-style voice may resonate with their audience the best. A trusted voice partner will use the most modern digital voice technologies, including conversational artificial intelligence (AI), natural-language understanding (NLU) and Deep Neural Networks (DNN) to ensure that the voice sounds natural and as lifelike as possible, no matter which device or platform a consumer is using. Retailers should also ensure that their voice partner prioritizes data privacy and quality assurance, so that consumers’ information stays confidential.
As e-commerce’s popularity continues to climb and in-store shopping resumes following the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, now is the time for retailers to capitalize on ways to stand out from the competition, engage consumers and foster better relationships. A custom digital voice empowers retailers to accomplish these goals in a convenient, safe and personable manner.
Matt Muldoon is the president, North America, ReadSpeaker, a company that offers a range of powerful text-to-speech solutions for instantly deploying lifelike, tailored voice interaction in any environment.
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Matt Muldoon is the President North America for ReadSpeaker, a company that provides lifelike online and offline text-to-speech solutions to make your products and services more engaging.