Alibaba Group is officially in the voice commerce game.
The massive online marketplace launched a beta version of its Tmall Genie, a device enabled with voice recognition technology that makes for Alibaba’s first “smart speaker.”
While the Genie is able to take voice commands from Tmall shoppers, it also offers a variety of nonshopping assistance for everyday talks and needs, like taking memos, an alarm, access to radio and the ability to search the Internet when asked questions, according to its web site.
Alibaba representatives could not be immediately reached for comment.
But Alibaba is far from being the first in the rapidly expanding voice assistant market.
The most obvious comparison is Amazon’s Echo device, which sells for $120, while Google Home typically sells for $129. Apple is also set to release its HomePod in December, a voice control device that will retail for $349.
Price comparisons aside, it remains to be seen how Alibaba’s Genie will measure up to Amazon’s Echo, more than 11 million of which had been sold since being released in 2015.
The Echo and Google Home have mostly sold in the U.S., however, and neither are fully available in China. Apple’s HomePod will only be available in the U.S., U.K. and Australia when it comes out later this year.
This leaves Alibaba’s roughly 450 million online shoppers essentially without access to a voice assistant and the marketplace with room for even more exponential growth.
Voice identification has until more recently been tied to personal devices like phones, mainly used for hands-free communication and basic search queries, not full-fledged shopping.
The use of artificial intelligence by companies like Amazon, Apple and Google has exploded over the last year, and Google chief executive officer Sundar Pichai said in April the tech company is moving toward being an “AI-first company.”
As for what voice shopping or “conversational commerce” means for apparel retail, the industry is working to embrace it, but selling and connecting to shoppers through Facebook messenger, chatbots and Instagram are still new ventures for many brands.
Nevertheless, AI-driven online shopping experiences appear to be the wave of the future and with the continued convergence of tech and retail, voice assistants are likely just the beginning.
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