By 2021, there will be 7.5 billion voice assistants on the planet. These, which consumers will use to identify, research and buy products, will open up unprecedented opportunities for merchants. Conversational artificial intelligence (AI) powers voice platforms such as Alexa, Siri and Google Home, which allow customers to interact with brands in a practical, highly personalized and contextualized way. This is the reason why many merchants are already trying to understand to what extent voice assistants can improve the customer experience …

Voice assistants: going beyond customer service

Customer service today brings together the most practical use cases for most voice bots and virtual assistants. In the field of shopping, these assistants are perfectly suited to products that do not require long searches, or to the renewal of the order of a product already purchased previously. However, the progress currently being made by AI in voice technology, machine learning and natural language recognition will encourage the transition to voice e-commerce.

Voice search or recognition will be increasingly adopted by consumers as they gain in precision and they highlight the considerable advantages offered by the voice trade (practicality, speed, simplicity). As for merchants, the savings generated by reducing the time and labor required to manage the customer buying process will encourage investment in this technology.

State of the art of voice commerce

Amazon quickly established itself as one of the leaders in this category, offering the possibility of ordering items via Echo directly from Amazon using exclusively voice commands. It also allows you to access voice-only promotions and easily recommend items by drawing on the customer’s order history. In addition, Amazon Prime Now and Alexa Voice Shopping offer customers more flexibility, choice and simplicity when it comes to purchasing or re-ordering. Google has also gone on the offensive in the voice business by adding purchasing functionality to its Google Home devices. Customers can order and pay for their items by voice command via Google Express.

Voice commerce, a maturing technology

While some major players are investing heavily in voice technology, the latter is still in its infancy. For it to truly become mainstream, it will face many challenges in terms of customer experience. Speech recognition must in particular gain in precision, because currently, the user can only order one article at a time or several copies of the same article.

However, Amazon and Google, the undisputed leaders in this area, continue to explore ways to capitalize on the initial success of voice commerce. In a few years, it will probably be possible to buy from most merchants using voice. What is more, the context of voice shopping is bound to gain in diversity and complexity. This year, Carrefour presented Léa, its voice assistant integrated into Google’s connected speakers. Léa allows users to add ingredients to the basket from a cooking recipe and to obtain information on nearby stores such as address, times or directions.

These are essential, as e-commerce is increasingly required to focus on the customer experience. Rather than focusing on mass consumption, it will be adapted to each individual. This means that trade will be animated, no longer by traditional exchanges, but by experiences. In this new universe, the brand promise will be dominant thanks to interesting content (including access to virtual and augmented reality (VR / AR)), personalization, recommendations driven by AI and customer service at Requirement.

Simplify the shopping experience

Voice commerce makes the shopping experience more enjoyable, while giving the merchant the ability to offer smarter real-time recommendations, based on lessons learned from interactions between users and AI-powered digital assistants. Ultimately, voice-controlled digital assistants will support a seamless end-to-end and more comprehensive purchasing journey, providing personalized recommendations and advice throughout the research, selection, purchase, and even assembly process. and use of products.

Merchants should simplify the transaction process, but also help customers make more informed decisions about the products and services available to them. For example, Amazon has added a camera to Amazon Echo that allows users to take selfies and then chat with a third party to get their feedback.

What the future holds

Voice shopping continues to grow. Consumers will soon be able to use voice, as well as conversation channels such as Facebook Messenger, as the preferred means of communication for their purchasing journey. According to recent forecasts, in just two years’ time, voice searches will represent half of all searches, and this trend will worsen. As merchants begin to deploy voice and conversational AI technologies, it is imperative that they be integrated with existing physical and digital channels, to ensure a seamless end-to-end customer experience. Customers want to be able to move freely from one purchasing channel to another, without interruption or loss of information.

Conversational AI (or virtual agents) is no exception to this rule. Any investment in voice technology must start with a deep understanding of customer needs and expectations. Actors also need to understand how voice commerce can augment or amplify existing multichannel capabilities in order to bring differentiating value. In terms of AI and data analytics, voice shopping must therefore ensure that customer experiences are truly dynamic and that they continue to build on lessons from previous interactions, within and across each channel.

About the Author

Scott Clarke, Chief Digital Officer and Global Consulting Leader, Retail, Consumer Goods, Travel and Hospitality, Cognizant