Three years ago, in “Voice Commerce Ready for Prime Time?,” I presented the pros and cons of voice-activated transactions. Since then, voice commerce has grown significantly, with the adoption of voice-based assistants, such as Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, and Samsung Bixby.
Experian, the global data provider, reported in 2016 that 45 percent of Amazon Echo owners have used voice to add a product to their shopping cart and 32 percent have actually bought something on Amazon Prime.
Google has made progress on this front by adding shopping capabilities to its Google Home device earlier this year, which allows customers to order and pay for goods via voice command with Google Express retail partners, such as Target, Costco, and PetSmart.
Omnipresence of Voice Commerce
At the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year, Alexa-powered devices were common. LG, for example, featured a smart refrigerator using Alexa that allows ordering of food items. Ford and Volkswagen integrated Alexa in their cars, enabling voice shopping while driving. Dish has built Alexa into its consoles so that consumers can use voice to change TV channels, search for their favorite shows, and shop.
Alexa’s success has prompted Amazon to offer Alexa as a service: Alexa Voice Service, an API. Amazon also has Alexa Skills Kit, a collection of self-service APIs and tools that make it easier to create voice-driven capabilities for Alexa.
The Alexa Skills app store has over a hundred applications, extending the basic features offered by the Amazon Echo device. One popular service, for example, is from StubHub: Alexa users can ask for events nearby and then purchase tickets for those events using Alexa.
Apple launched its Siri API under the name Viv. It was acquired by Samsung last year and continues to work with multiple vendors for integrating voice search in their devices.
Amazon has added a camera to Amazon Echo and launched it as Echo Look. It can help individuals take selfies and then talk to someone for a second opinion. Alexa uses artificial intelligence and a new service called Style Check to offer wardrobe suggestions. And since it is connected to Amazon, shopping for a new outfit is just a voice command away.
All this activity is building on the initial success of voice commerce. In a few years, it will likely be possible to shop with most major retailers using voice.
What does this mean for small and medium-sized retailers?
For one, it could be another channel to generate sales. Voice commerce could be worth the investment if customers are already using voice-based assistants at home. Another aspect to consider is search, which could significantly improve the shopping experience.
Amazon Echo is the most-used device in the voice commerce space. Most purchases via Echo are for entertainment items and household goods. Retailers that offer these types of products should consider voice commerce.
Brick-and-mortar retailers can use voice search to help shoppers find items or learn about promotions.
Conversational commerce — enabling transactions via instant messaging tools and chatbots — can also help retailers. I addressed it earlier this year, at “Why Adopt Conversational Commerce?,” which also included a list of vendors that offer the technology.