How smart assistants could revolutionise commerce

Thought Leadership
In this post, GlobalWebIndex‘s Senior Trends Analyst, Katie Young examines the future potential for commerce through voice technology and why marketers need to start thinking about where voice can offer something new and beneficial in the consumer journey.

If you Google ‘voice search’, you’ll probably see an array of headlines declaring ‘the voice search revolution’. Apple has launched its own smart speaker, called Home Pod, Google has Home, and Baidu’s Little Fish device is gaining market share in China. Meanwhile, consumers have purchased tens of millions Alexa-enabled devices.

Adoption is set to grow
For brands, thinking about where they can fit into this new ecosystem is becoming crucial. Most importantly, they need to prepare for expectations, and voice search is just another part of the omnichannel pie to think about. It’s rapidly becoming ingrained in online behaviours: our data shows that 1 in 4 internet users are already using voice search on their mobiles each month, for example.

Perhaps the greatest opportunities lie in smart speakers. Although just 15% of internet users currently own a voice-controlled smart assistant, there’s also 34% who say they are interested in purchasing one. That means almost half of digital consumers worldwide could be engaging with smart assistants in the future.

Voice control makes shopping easy
Commerce is where this kind of tech will really make its mark. If a customer knows they want to order a pizza, they can navigate to a website, search through all the options, then choose their toppings and size. Alternatively, they can just say “Alexa, order me a pepperoni pizza”. Similarly, in the travel industry you’ll find a range of skills that speed up the process of finding and comparing cheap flights. With just a few words, Skyscanner’s Alexa skill gives suggestions on flights and the latest prices, for instance.

Voice searches often have significant purchase intent; they tend to be action-oriented like “find a store” or “buy something”. Components of voice recognition, such as re-ordering commands, turn traditionally inactive shoppers into potential loyalists. If you get your brand to be the one they re-order, then you’ve separated yourself from the competition. Take the pizza example: if you were to enable Domino’s Alexa skill and ask Domino’s to feed you, the next time you want pizza, you’re set to choose Domino’s – just because it’s easy.

Voice assistant skills must fill a gap
Brands should refrain from adopting new technology for the buzz it can create among consumers. They should instead solve a problem and maximise the ease effect brought by the new technology. Allergy medicine brand Zyrtec did this well with its AllergyCast skill which allows hay fever sufferers to evaluate weather and pollen count before they leave the house. Not only does this encourage users to pick up allergy meds on certain days, most importantly, it provides a helpful resource for potential product users.

Is the future social?
There’s little doubt that social, and Facebook specifically, will make an impact in this space in the near future. Any time Facebook sees an opportunity for new social experiences, it springs into action. The company is already reported to be working on its own smart speaker that has the potential to tie all its threads together – from Instagram all the way to Marketplace. And just as it partnered with businesses on Messenger, it’s easy to see how it could partner with retailers in the same way for its smart assistant, like Ocado and Amazon Echo have done.

All in all, marketers need to think about where voice can offer something new and beneficial in the consumer journey – whether that’s providing in-the-moment advice on cooking, to reducing friction in the path to purchase. Ultimately, this gradual shift in semantic search will require a rethink of sales channels and a new approach to discovery, SEO and social media marketing, and marketers are likely to be shifting focus in this direction.