How Voice Assistants Will Transform Grocery Shopping
Three years ago, the next disruptive medium of the future was mobile. Today, that future is voice.
Voice technology already has tremendous traction: Apple’s Siri handles over 2 billion commands a week, Alexa is in over 4 percent of U.S. households, and 20 percent of Google searches on Android handsets are done by voice, according to Scott Galloway’s video, This Technology Kills Brands. Amazon Echo and Google Home smart speakers will sell more than 24 million units combined by the end of 2017, according to analytics firm VoiceLabs.
Voice technology is becoming more accessible and embedded into every type of device we use today, from smart speakers to laptops to mobile phones to cars to wireless headphones (AirPods) and even to refrigerators! Soon, we’ll be able to speak to our favorite voice assistant (Alexa, Siri, Google) anywhere we go. Given the effortless level of convenience it offers, this is an impending tidal wave that can’t be stopped. Users don't have to push a button, swipe or even look at a screen.
As voice technology sneaks its way into all aspects of our lives, it will quickly become our trusted assistant when we want to search for information, ask a question, command a device to do something and, most importantly, buy something. Enter: voice and retail.
Voice is already changing how we order things online. In an RBC survey of 228 Amazon.com customers, 17 percent said they use voice for ordering items. RBC also believes that the Alexa devices could increase spending between 5 percent and 15 percent (or $40 per customer), reaching an incremental revenue of $5 billion via shopping by 2020.
Google has already added voice ordering capabilities to its Google Home device in the U.S., with products from retailers including Whole Foods, Walgreens and Bed Bath & Beyond available to purchase.
With voice-assisted ordering on the rise, there are three major opportunities for grocery retailers to use voice technology to create a new kind of interactive shopping experience that will help them capture this emergent new shopper behavior to remain relevant and competitive.
Capture the Moment of Inspiration
As voice becomes the trusted channel in a number of aspects of our lives, it will naturally be the place we turn to when we realize we’ve run out of something or want to add an item to the list — especially everyday products like groceries and household items. It's a lot easier than finding a pen and paper to write down or even pulling out your smartphone and opening up an app. Imagine the simplicity of simply saying, “Siri, buy toilet paper,” and depending on the retailer, that product could be at your house within an hour. While Genies may not exist in the real world, the experience isn’t far off.
With such an easy and convenient process, all purchase intent will naturally diverge to these devices, and thus favor retailers that are integrated with those devices.
Create Your Own Virtual Assistant
The opportunity with voice technology for grocery retailers doesn't only lie with direct purchase intention. There's also the opportunity to inspire purchases indirectly when consumers turn to their Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod or Google Home for dinner and recipe ideas. Grocery retailers can jump in with suggestions that are personalized to each shopper’s dietary requirements and based on products they tend to buy often. Retailers can then ask if that shopper would like to convert those suggestions to their shopping cart, thereby winning that purchase with a simple question.
It doesn't have to stop there. Retailers can continue to add value to the meal experience by providing step-by-step cooking instructions through the voice device. Providing this kind of rich, value-added experience will ensure your brand remains top of mind and that shoppers will continue to interact with it in these new ways.
Become the Personal Shopper
Leveraging loyalty program data and predictive personalization technology, retailers can use voice assistants to serve up more relevant search results to notify shoppers of deals and specials on products they’ve bought in the past and to remind them of products they may have forgotten. Given the short interactions that are required for voice, it will be critical that the content served is highly relevant based on the individual shopper to ensure they’ll want to continue using the voice channel. No shopper will want to listen to dozens of search results through voice.
What This Means for Retailers
With the increasing rise in voice assistant devices across U.S. households, consumer habits and expectations will naturally shift and change, and so must retail.
Accenture’s research found that 38 percent of millennials are willing to try voice-activated ordering (10 percent have already used it), suggesting the influence of voice on consumers’ shopping habits could just be warming up.
The real question is: If adoption is only a matter of “when” and not “if,” how will it affect retailers that aren't part of the new communication ecosystem?
What Retailers Can Do Today to Prepare
Get in the voice ecosystem. Build “apps” for voice, also known as bots, and connect them to all the channels that support third-party bots — Alexa, Google Home, Facebook Messenger, etc. One day, retailers will even be able to activate this right from their app or website.
Building for voice will require retailers to have a solid technology foundation, including a product catalog that’s fully digitized, API-accessible and e-commerce enabled. If retailers don’t have this in place yet, there's some catching up to do. Get on it, and do it fast — your competitors are already well on their way.
Chris Bryson is the CEO and founder of Unata, a provider of one-to-one digital solutions for grocery retailers.