Interacting with voice assistants is becoming a part of our daily lives. From smartphones and smart TVs to wearables and even microwaves, it’s hard to name a device that hasn’t been — or won’t soon be — enhanced with voice-enabled technology in some capacity.
Despite its growth, voice assistant technology is a largely untapped resource. Consumers who do have voice assistants use them to perform simple tasks, but these complex devices are capable of much more than telling the time or the weather. Natural language processing technology is improving, and the more these voice-enabled devices learn, the better they are at understanding, performing and aiding consumers in a variety of tasks, including voice-enabled shopping.
The Current State of Voice Commerce
Voice commerce, which is also referred to as conversational commerce, isn't a new concept in the retail space. In fact, it accounted for over $2 billion in e-commerce sales last year, according to a study by eMarketer. A couple of billion dollars is only a drop in the global retail bucket, however. According to our voice commerce survey at SUMO Heavy, only 17 percent of consumers have browsed or shopped via voice-activated assistants.
There are signs of progress to come, however. Many consumers who own voice assistants are avid users and interact with their devices on a weekly or daily basis. Even more compelling is that almost half of the same consumers have shopped via their voice assistants. As more people begin to see the benefits of using voice assistants, we can expect more shoppers to embrace voice commerce.
Advancements in Voice-Enabled Technology
Another reason voice commerce will flourish is that voice technology is continually improving. Much progress has been made in natural language processing, and now computers can hear speech, interpret it, and measure sentiment. In other words, today’s machines — including voice assistants — can analyze and essentially understand the human language.
Also, because voice assistants are built on machine learning, the technology becomes better over time as more people interact with the devices. As Bernard Marr cites in an example, if Alexa makes a mistake in interpreting your request, the learned data from that particular situation is used the make the entire system better.
The gradual advancement of voice-enabled technology has led voice assistants to where there are today, and while not perfect, their enormous potential makes it hard for consumers or retailers to ignore.
How Retailers Can Take Advantage of Voice Commerce
To take advantage of the coming voice commerce boom, retailers should consider the ways they can reach their customers through voice — one of the main ways being Alexa skills and Google Shopping Actions.
Retailers such as Best Buy and 1-800-Flowers.com have created their own Alexa skills that allow customers to make orders via their Alexa-enabled voice assistants. Alexa skills aren’t restricted to product orders, however. Children’s clothing store Carter’s uses its skill to enhance the customer experience by answering questions, offering support, promoting daily deals, and sharing product information. To further encourage developers and companies to create their own skills, Amazon.com even offers an Alexa Skills Kit, a guide to designing, building and launching your own Alexa skill. With Google Shopping Actions, retailers can make their products available for purchase on the 1 billion Google Assistant-enabled devices in the world. Like Amazon, Google offers retailers support as they build their Shopping Actions by offering access to a certified partner.
Voice commerce has the potential to be a viable business opportunity for e-commerce brands and retailers in the U.S. and around the world. To take advantage of increased voice assistant sales and consumers’ growing reliance on voice-enabled technology, retailers should start considering how voice shopping can be a part of their future strategies.
Bart Mroz is CEO at SUMO Heavy, a digital commerce strategy firm. The company builds, connects, expands and invests in growing online retailers. This group of experienced strategists, consultants, designers and developers works to build solid brands and to create effective online retail solutions. Bart is an expert in e-commerce, business consulting, and technology strategy.