Voice commerce, alexa, amazon

Hear them out — voice commerce is being piloted by a handful of fashion and beauty brands whether seen or unseen in the market. (In many cases, the tech partners enlisted by the brands for their elaborate demonstrations must not disclose their involvement.)

And according to a study from OC&C Strategy Consultants, the U.S. voice commerce market is expected to grow to $40 billion by 2022, but retailers — and consumers — have their doubts on the utility of the still nascent technology.

“In the same way that mobile turned the path to purchase on its head, voice will do the same,” Nithya Thadani, chief executive officer of Rain Agency, said to WWD. As a voice and conversational artificial intelligence firm, Rain has leveraged its services to brands such as Nike, Unilever and meditation app Headspace, among others.

If Thadani were to take a page from a voice handbook, it would read that successful voice strategies are ones that “integrate voice tightly in a system with other channels, including web and mobile,” so consumers can move fluidly across touch points, “picking up each interaction where the last one left off.” Playing the role of last-mile conversion, voice commerce can perform well in the bottom of sales funnel conversion, including purchase and repurchase.

Voice should not be viewed as a separate channel, but as an “amplifier” to help “contextualize and personalize” current channels, perhaps even aided with visuals, as both Amazon and Google are dabbling in now, investing heavily in screen-enabled voice devices such as the Echo Show, Echo Show 5, Google Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max, according to Thadani.

Tell Me More

Voice commerce is not just limited to the smart speaker (Alexa), voice assistants are on smartphones (Siri) and everywhere in between (such as Google Assistant, which transcends smartphone, tablet and the home speaker). In between can even include inside consumers’ cars during commutes.

In a recent study by Microsoft, which surveyed more than 2,000 global consumers, some 54 percent of respondents professed a belief that smart assistant will help them make retail purchases within the next five years.

With burgeoning consumer intent, maybe voice commerce is worth taking off the back burner and adding to retailers’ e-commerce tech stacks?

All the ways voice commerce can be integrated mean brands can further service the customer in an engaging way along the shopping journey, while accelerating a purchase impulse. This can include use cases such as campaign-driven commerce, as Rain demonstrated with Nike. For the campaign, Nike’s Adapt BB self-lacing sneaker sold out within five minutes at halftime during a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, whereby the Google Assistant action delivered a call-to-action during the game’s broadcast. The project won three Cannes Lions awards this year.

“Today, consumers are using voice for product exploration, pricing comparisons and actions like adding items to cart — while the actual purchase can happen via voice, web or mobile,” Thadani said.

Day-to-Day Voice

For use cases that are “narrow and specific,” such as daily ordering, voice commerce may be best utilized, as Thadani informed. Rain helped create Starbucks’ Alexa Skill — as well as in-app mobile voice functionality — that allowed users to simply ask Alexa to order their “regular” coffee order and have it ready for pickup at a local Starbucks location.

With influencers representing a $6.5 billion industry, as previously reported in WWD, the inkling for listening to: tutorials, daily tips and tricks, from one’s favorite beauty and style influences may fit in the rotation of the Millennial’s podcast binge. Brands such as Unilever, with its Vaseline brand, have piloted this very scenario.

Speaking Its Truth

With any new technology, there are misconceptions. Thadani sees a common misstep is in thinking voice search can be won based on traditional search engine optimization best practices.

“It’s true, having strong web SEO can enhance the chances of surfacing in voice, but there’s a lot more to it. Voice search can often bypass traditional search engines and consult knowledge graphs such as Wikipedia — or even arbitrarily just answer with an assistant’s “favorite” based on its personality,” said Thadani, who added that voice search is nuanced across assistant types.

“There is no silver bullet. Retailers looking to win in voice search should take a holistic approach — optimizing web content to be conversational and reflective of ‘how people speak,’ optimizing e-commerce pages and rankings, and exploring the value of building information-rich branded voice applications — or what Rain refers to as ‘hand-raising’ skills or actions to catch low hanging fruit voice queries,” Thadani reiterated.

For the moment, fast-fashion retailers such as Asos are debuting voice-powered shopping on Google Assistant, and beauty retailers such as Sephora are employing Google Home Hubs in-store to better listen — and speak — to the customer.

Related stories:

What to Watch: Voice Devices Bringing the News

Asos Gives Its Fashion Bot a Voice on Google Assistant

Talk to Me: The Rise of Voice Commerce

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