Rob is enjoying a game of soccer on television at home. He is craving pizza, except that he doesn’t want to miss a single maneuver by Messi. But he needn’t take his eye off the game at all. He just says, “Hey Alexa, order me a 12-inch pepperoni pizza.” That’s it. The rest is done by the Amazon Voice Assistant.
This is Voice-Based Conversational Commerce.
The concept of conversational commerce has been around since 2015-16. Today, going beyond interacting with a customer on an app or via text message, IT companies are building a voice-based retail ecosystem to deliver greater value to the customer.
According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, “voice shopping will grow to $40 billion-plus in 2022, up from about $2 billion today (May 2019) across the United States and the United Kingdom.”
It’s not hard to understand why. Speaking is our most natural form of communication. An estimated 2.5 billion people own smartphones today, of whom over 1 billion are reportedly using speech commands on personal digital assistants like Alexa, Siri Google, Bixby and Cortana for a hands-free experience. Since 2014, interest in voice assistant-enabled devices has shown steady growth in the US (see graph below).
But how does Alexa get Rob the exact meal he wanted?
After receiving the speech command, the Voice Assistant (VA) will go to his account on his preferred pizza brand’s website, select a 12-inch pepperoni pizza, add “extra cheese” and “BBQ sauce”— these choices are already fed into his loyalty-based profile — pay with his card details or e-wallet and send it to his home.
That’s not all. When Rob orders pizza from office, he often also orders chicken wings. From home, he usually adds a 1-litre bottle of cola. Based on his location, the VA will ask him if he wants to add cola to his order. Rob also likes to avail of the thedeals of the day. Digital assistants like Alexa will prompt him if he wants to hear the deals being offered that day by the pizza brand’s outlet nearest to his home.
That’s how personalized a customer’s experience can be. Voice shopping offers a paradigm shift in purchasing by creating a super-personalized influential ecosystem. Leveraging the massive advances made in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data Analytics, IT companies can now provide retailers with a profiling of individual customers, leading to predictive personalization.
What does that mean for businesses?
According to Juniper Research, chatbot-based interactions will help retail sales to almost double every year to $112 billion by 2023 from $7.3 billion in 2019. Retailers can expect to cut costs by $439 billion a year in 2023, up from $7 million this year, as AI-powered chatbots get more sophisticated at responding to customers.
Here are some ways in which businesses can prepare to talk shop:
- Get in early: If you want a piece of the e-commerce pie, build a voice-based conversational commerce strategy now. According to an article on digitalcommerce360.com, “Conversational commerce will be as dramatic a shift in retail as the launch of the internet.”
- Leverage NLP tech: One of the first hurdles for voice-bot commerce was unsatisfactory UX (user experience), leading to poor stickiness. However, there have been significant improvements in Natural Language Processing (NLP) technology, due to which machine learning has vastly improved, making the UX frictionless.
- Sign up for an NPS: Spend on a native payment service, like Amazon Pay or Google Pay, for a seamless UX for your customer. An NPS will charge a commission. It’s worth paying for it.
- Get a hang of VUI: As the Harvard Business review article quoted above puts it, “Voice is an interface to technology. Your ultimate goal, then, should be for a voice interface to overlay all of your customer touch points, from smart speakers and digital assistants or voice assistants to your website, apps, phone lines, and even in-store experiences. For this, you’ll need to develop your skills and understanding of voice user interface (VUI) design practices so that you can match a user’s context and needs with your solution.”
- Invest in data research: Voice assistants are constantly collecting user information. 56 percent of respondents said in a Salesforce research that they were willing to share data for a faster, more convenient experience. Unlock the power of data to create a hyper-personalized ecosystem and leverage AI for improved efficiency, productivity and integrated knowledge management.
- Assistant to advisor: The chatbot interface of your business has to learn how to migrate from merely executing a command to actively influencing customer choice.
Let’s go back to Rob. He wants to buy a shirt. He says, “Okay Google, I want a white shirt, under $30, slim fit.” His Google Assistant will scan brands available and filter the options. Analyzing past behavior. It will also remind Rob that he usually buys white cotton shirts of X brand.
What is most exciting to me is, the prospect of taking the retail experience one notch higher. While selecting the shirt, Google can use multiple data points like Rob’s physique, height and BMI to suggest the best fit for Rob and send simulated images of him wearing the shortlisted shirts to his smart speaker with a screen. This multi-modal voice user interface experience is the future of smart digital assistants.
Certain makeup and fashion brands are already using digital mirrors or interactive mirrors harnessing Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) to suggest the most suitable shades and designs to its customers based on body type, skin tone, facial structure, etc, to help them make the best choice.
Speaking of choice, here’s my wish for the future.
I spend five minutes standing in front of my wardrobe every morning, wondering what to wear. I look forward to a day when my IoT-enabled cupboard will prompt my VA to suggest an outfit for me every day, all depending on my preferences, the occasion, and the weather. That day, I believe, is just around the corner.