How voice tech is disrupting the retail industry


How voice tech is disrupting the retail industry

Sam Knights, Managing Director at shopper media agency Threefold

When it comes to everyday purchases shoppers will traditionally take the path of least resistance and will rely on tacit memory and quick decision making.  Technology advances including voice are making it even easier for consumers to shop whilst continuing other tasks. E.g. ordering groceries via Amazon’s Alexa simply by talking to it while watching your favourite show or even cooking! If retailers can offer shoppers even simpler, faster and swifter ways of shopping they will win in the long term.

There are some real areas for consideration on voice for both brands and retailers. For brands, they’ll need to work harder than ever to stay top of mind for shoppers. We may well see shoppers buying by category (e.g. Alexa, add cheese to my basket), rather than by brand (e.g. Alex, add Cathedral City Mature Cheddar 200g Block). However, if they can get onto the first ‘favourites’ list that the voice system puts together, there could be a real opportunity to drive loyalty – after all its easier to ask the voice assistant to order 1 more of the thing you already like than have to look again to see if you want something cheaper/different, isn’t it?

This is where comparison retailers could really win. If they could train voice assisted devices to offer shoppers a choice between products based on certain requirements e.g. “I need to top up on dishwasher tablets. Which ones are cheapest at the moment?”

The interesting thing is when it comes to ‘ownership’ of those shoppers. Currently Tesco or Asda refer to ‘their shoppers’ as people who walk in to ‘their’ shops. However, the fascinating thing about an aggregator like echo is that suddenly those consumers no longer ‘belong’ to anyone but Amazon. Therefore, retailers may have to start working with Amazon / paying them to maintain their ‘share of voice’. For example, we’re already starting to see companies like Amazon selling branded placement opportunities on Alexa. If built in the right way (e.g. Alexa, what shall I have for dinner this week?’ and delivered based upon solid data (e.g. purchase history, demographics, time of day and so on), there could be opportunities to deliver relevant content (e.g. a recipe recommendation) and a direct/immediate link to purchase.

There are still some things to watch out for with voice assisted shopping though. As it stands the ‘bots’ don’t always turn what they ‘hear’ in to accurate shopping lists and this could end up frustrating shoppers and ultimately losing trust. If the technology learns fast through the ‘trialist enthusiasts’ then we believe we will see a fast adoption to this by 2020.

However, we must not get too carried away in all areas of retail. Much like the online boom in grocery shopping didn’t wipe out the need for bricks and mortar stores, more voice assisted shopping opportunities won’t eradicate the need for physical stores totally. There is still the browsing nature and social side of shopping that some people still enjoy as well as the need for many to want to touch and feel certain products before buying.

Showrooming is getting more popular, especially by online retailers who are implementing pop up stores to lure shoppers in but retailers mustn’t get complacent. To keep shoppers ‘browsing’ and have the opportunity to upsell or add impulsively to their basket, retailers will have to work harder if shopping through voice gets as big as predicted.