Their names are Cortana, Siri, Google Assistant or Alexa: the digital voice assistants of Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Amazon, respectively. They respond to your verbal commands or answer your questions. What’s more, you can also control other smart devices like lamps, stereo equipment or TVs with voice command.
The so-called voice commerce is an intelligent extension of e-commerce. Its pioneer is – not surprisingly – Amazon and its digital voice assistant Alexa. Along with the Alexa app, users need an Echo speaker unit, which is able to communicate with consumers by saying things like:
“Alexa, what’s on my calendar for today?“
“Bello returns from the veterinarian at 6:00 PM today.“
“Alexa, add tennis balls and dog biscuits to my shopping list.“
“I have added tennis balls and dog biscuits to your shopping list […]“
Having said that, voice-activated shopping is not quite as simple as the example would suggest because – after all- there are many different types of tennis balls and dog biscuits available on the market. In this case, Alexa selects your preferences and refers to previously ordered items by its Prime members. Generally, only Prime-designated products can be ordered in this fashion at this juncture. Unspecified products, consulting services or product comparisons are no option.
The system uses the standard default payment and shopping settings. Users can set up a verbal confirmation code via the Alexa app, disable the voice purchasing function as well as review product and order details. Consumers can also cancel an order immediately after they placed it via voice command. There is one drawback though: there is no interface to verify whether the order is correct. Customers get a standard audio and email confirmation, while changes can only be made manually through the app.
Voice commerce is the initiation of an online purchase by using the human voice. With voice commerce, instead of manually typing in search criteria, an interface handles the purchase, processing, and payment of products online.
Amazon opens the door to third-party providers with Alexa Skills
Using the Alexa app, Prime members can choose from different “Skills”, similar to smartphone apps. This allows third-party developers to provide extensions to the system. Thanks to the Alexa voice service, they can integrate the technology into their own products via open programming interfaces. Currently, 19 skills are available in the “Shopping“ section for Germany.
real,- already uses this type of Skill to provide information about product choices, the latest news, recipes and personal messages from the local Real supermarket. All information is provided by the Real website. Right now there are six available voice commands that will be continuously improved. In doing so, Real seeks to further expand the merger between brick-and-mortar and online retail. At this point, consumers cannot place voice-controlled orders.
Meanwhile, AllyouneedFresh, the online supermarket of the Deutsche Post DHL Group, already delivers groceries on voice command. One drawback: to trigger the actual purchase, in a second step, users have to navigate to the AllyouneedFresh online supermarket after selecting the merchandise. Here they can review the shopping list, make any necessary changes and place the items in the shopping cart and purchase them.
Actually, right now, only Amazon makes an order process using a voice command available to users.
However, Skills cannot be set as defaults and have to always be reopened using voice command.
Google and Walmart collaborate to offer voice shopping
Meanwhile, Google is now also entering the battle for voice commerce supremacy in the U.S. Since September, hundreds of thousands of various Walmart items have been available through Google Assistant. The company clearly positions its Google Home against Amazon. Initially, the items are delivered by Google’s delivery service, though later Walmart will take over. Starting next year, the company intends to expand the product selection to also include fresh foods. In addition, customers will also have the option to pick up their order in person at one of the more than 4,700 Walmart stores in the U.S. and possibly at a price reduction.
Google’s smart speaker has also been available in Germany since mid-year but cannot be used for shopping yet.
Voice Commerce only for avid online shoppers?
At least when it comes to Germany, the answer to this question is currently “yes”. Accenture’s “Dynamic Digital Consumers“ study confirms this. According to a YouGov survey, almost half of all Germans occasionally use the voice command on their mobile devices but they remain skeptical when it comes to personal assistants. One major hurdle to cross is data protection uncertainty. After all, the more customers integrate personal assistants into their daily lives, the more the system is able to collect data about them and their habits, assess it and subsequently make perfect suggestions for any situation and mood based on the analysis.
What some are touting the “creation of a new ecosystem“, others consider a massive intrusion into privacy matters. “At the moment, users insist on going shopping by themselves to underscore their autonomy,“ says Nicole Hanisch, retail market research expert and managing director of the rheingold Institute.
That’s also why the Retail Report 2017 sees the greatest benefit of voice assistants in customer services in the future. Their use here is primarily conceivable in the realm of chatbots in customer communication. Based on current estimates, voice assistants could take care of up to 60 percent of customer communication transactions. After all, customers often ask similar or recurring questions. The report adds that the evolution of human-machine communication brings back the significance of the spoken word in interpersonal interaction. That’s why in the long run, retailers have to decide whether they also want to facilitate voice ordering options for products and services.
Rumor has it that Amazon is presently working on smart glasses to create access to Alexa anywhere, anytime. It is also said to be working on a security camera for Amazon Echo.