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“Alexa, disrupt the retail market, please.”

Voice-activated assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri are still in the process of being widely embraced by consumers, especially in regards to completing purchases. But, in the next three years, Capgemini included in its report, “Conversational Commerce: Why Consumers are Embracing Voice Assistants in Their Lives,” the tools will likely shape — and service — the retail market in lieu rising consumer demands for enhanced customer service.

“Today, around a quarter [24 percent] say they would use a voice assistant rather than a web site. Three years from now, that rises to 40 percent,” the report said. “And close to a third [31 percent] would prefer to use a voice assistant instead of visiting a shop or a bank branch in the future, compared to 20 percent today.”

While retailers and brands grapple to devise the most streamlined and efficient — yet accurate — personalization features for consumers, voice assistants hold the possibility of injecting a sense of intimacy between merchant and shopper.

“Voice assistants create a more compelling level of interactivity between users and brands because they leverage a more organic form of communication,” said Mark Asher, director of corporate strategy at Adobe, in a report detailing the company’s top expectations for 2018.

That dialogue between retailer and consumer stands to increase both online and in-store, Capgemini’s report suggested. “In the future, over a third of consumers would be willing to replace customer support or shop sales support with a personalized voice assistant in order to enhance their in-store experience,” said the Capgemini report.

The tools aim to provide the personalization that consumers crave but rarely receive. “Today, only 22 percent of global customers acknowledge that the companies with which they do business tailor their experiences based on a deep understanding of their needs, preferences and past interactions,” said the Accenture report, “Put Your Trust in Hyper-Relevance.”

What’s more, voice assistants provide convenience and efficiency to increasingly time-poor consumers — particularly Millennials and Generation Z shoppers. “Convenience — 52 percent — and ability to do things hands free — 48 percent — are the two biggest reasons for preferring voice assistants over mobile apps and web sites,” the Capgemini report said.

“Personalization today is often static and time-lagged, delivered at the point of purchase and in response to certain customer behaviors,” the Accenture report explained. Voice assistants stand to fill a widening gap between consumer demands and current, faltering personalization features.

Consumer trust in voice-activated assistants is an all-time high, mainly seeing the efficiency that automation provides. “Forty-one percent of consumers would prefer a voice assistant over a web site or app because it helps automate their routine shopping tasks,” the Capgemini report said.

It’s for these reasons that large retailers and brands have wisely taken note of the potential of voice-activated assistants, and deployed apps on the platforms in the past year.

“Wal-Mart partnered with Google to provide highly personalized voice shopping. It recently launched its voice platform to allow consumers to shop more than two million Wal-Mart items through voice, “ said the Capgemini report. “The French cosmetics retailer, Sephora, recently launched its app on Google Assistant, Google’s voice-activated virtual personal assistant. The assistant allows consumers to book beauty services, with more functions soon to come.”

Though consumer trust in the devices and tools is rising, it still remains an obstacle for brands and retailers to address early in their adoption of the technology. Sixty-five percent of those polled in the Capgemini study said they don’t trust voice assistants with the safety and security of their personal data. Communicating clear messages about security features and the use of shopper data will help to mitigate shopper apprehension.

Despite their concerns about security of personal data, shoppers continue to demand expedited, efficient and customized shopping experiences. Shelley Bransten, senior vice president of retail at Salesforce, echoed the current state of consumer demand — and the role of the retailer in a recent interview with WWD, “Today’s shoppers increasingly expect individualized experiences whether they are shopping on their couch or browsing a store, retailers are under pressure to understand who a shopper is across channels and create seamless path to purchase.”

This also applies to customer service. “Forty-nine percent of consumers who would prefer voice assistants over human interactions in shops and call centers said because it was faster,” the Capgemini report said.

Voice assistants install a new angle and option to collect pertinent insights on shopper behavior. “Chatbots and voice-enabled assistants deliver a convenient, hands-free experience, removing even more barriers to customer engagement. These technologies will not be successful on their own, however — they will need a rich set of customer data in order to make relevant recommendations and be truly helpful,” said Johan Wrede, global vice president of strategic marketing for SAP Hybris.

And though the answer to consumers’ ongoing desire to touch and feel product prior to purchasing remains, the onslaught of 3-D printing and augmented reality technologies propose options for cross-integration in the future.

More from WWD:

Consumer Trust in AI-Powered, Voice-Enabled Assistants Grows

Invigorating Personalization Features Will Boost Consumer Loyalty

Technology Evolves, Poised to Revitalize Consumer Experiences

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