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The rise of voice commerce

Voice commerce is gathering pace as the chosen method for making purchases. This broad term includes any interaction between a brand and a consumer that incorporates voice recognition technology. As opposed to making buying choices via your mobile phone, tablet or computer which have screens and involve mainly visual interactions.

As The Future Shopper survey discovered, 55 per cent of online consumers would be comfortable shopping by voice with no website or store involvement, which indicates that this is a burgeoning trend that could be a huge market in the very near future.

Integrating voice commerce

It’s estimated that by 2022 the voice commerce market will be worth somewhere in the region of £40 billion. This indicates that we are moving away from screens as the primary interface for eCommerce and towards a screenless process instead, at least for products that are commodities and purchased repeatedly. According to Nielsen, the infrastructure to support this move is already in place thanks to the popularity of smart speakers.

Nielsen’s latest study indicates that 24 per cent of households already own a smart speaker and 40 per cent of those have more than one. The trend towards owning a smart speaker, such as Amazon’s Echo, Google’s Home speaker, and Apple’s HomePod, is one that has gathered much of its ground in recent months. According to the Nielsen study, almost two thirds of smart speaker buyers made their purchase in the last six months.

The shift from screen to voice

Smart speakers are already influencing the ways in which we interact with the online world. According to Nielsen, we are already using smart speakers for functions such as listening to music but 68 per cent of users chat with their smart speaker, just for fun. The increasing popularity of smart speakers, as well as the wide range of uses that we put them to is paving the way for a shift from screen to voice. It’s highly likely that, in the not too distant future, the screen will become the fallback for interfacing with the internet, as opposed to the primary option.

Who’s using it, and where?

Different markets are accelerating at different rates, but voice commerce penetration in the US is extraordinary, with 60 per cent of online consumers using or having used voice assistants to shop online, compared to just 25 per cent in the UK.

When looking at male vs female differences, the results are almost as stark; male shoppers are markedly more likely to use voice commerce than female shoppers. Just under half (49 per cent) of men surveyed said they use or had used smart assistants to shop, compared to just 30 per cent of women.

And yet unsurprisingly, it is millennials who are driving this voice commerce trend internationally; just under half (44 per cent) of 25 to 34 years currently use voice to shop, with 36 per cent of 35 to 44-year-olds also active users. This drops suddenly to just 15 per cent in the 45 to 54-year-old group, and 10 per cent for the over-55s. The only surprise being the cut-off for those using voice to purchase was older than one might expect.

Voicing concerns over Zero UI

The outlook is bright for voice commerce, but concerns remain. Just like how Amazon had to pull the CloudPets smart toy from its digital shelves for fear over security issues, some consumers are skeptical over the security and privacy of smart assistants.

Nearly three quarters expressed concern about privacy issues such as devices “listening in to conversations” but even more – 83 per cent – said they would worry about smart speakers ordering items without permission. Clearly, there is work to be done to win over everyone and allay fears over security and privacy.

And despite more than half saying they would be happy with a retail experience that involved no stores or sites, nearly 9-in-10 consumers said they would prefer to see an item before they make a purchase. Anticipating this already, Amazon has added to the Zero UI concept slightly with the introduction of the Echo Show, a smart speaker that also incorporates a screen, knowing full well that there are some products that consumers will just want to see first.

Adapting to the rise in voice commerce

As voice commerce begins to grow and becomes better established, brands will need to adapt to this changing landscape; the impact will be huge. For example, it will affect how consumers search for products and the choices that are presented to them. What’s more, it will require changes to be made to the approaches that are taken to stimulate consumers into buying.

A switch from visual to audio will also mean brands have to reconsider how to engage customers with a brand identity that needs to be built around voice and personality. Voice technology is another reason to engage with, rather than try to battle, Amazon too. The internet giant has helped pioneer the voice commerce concept and is the first to build a comprehensive end-to-end ecosystem for it. Listings with Amazon are now a prudent means of entering the voice market.

Finally, the rise in voice commerce will also make data and the use of machine learning even more important when it comes to the timing and methods of customer targeting.

The final word

Voice commerce represents a significant shift in the way that consumers interact with brands – and it’s a change that is coming. As well as the adjustments that need to be made there are real opportunities in exploring this new method of communication too.

Digital consumers are increasingly making purchasing decisions based on convenience and looking for technologies which make the retail experience as frictionless as possible. Voice commerce may not be without friction just yet, but brands need to be thinking about what their offering is going to be in the next couple of years when voice becomes a major interface.

They have to plan now for customers that are going to interact with their brand using voice, especially as it will completely change how brands and customers communicate.

Voice holds amazing potential; but who’s going to really take advantage?

Naji El-Arifi, Head of Innovation, Wunderman Thompson CommerceImage source: Shutterstock/polkadot_photo

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