Five years on from claims within Amazon that voice would "bring the next billion online", the company announced that Alexa ran a $10bn loss in 2022. So why has the technology seemingly lost its voice?
Does voice commerce's silence speak volumes?
Heralded as the next big thing in consumer interaction, voice technology hasn't exactly lived up to that potential.
Voice Commerce has failed to create a regular revenue stream of any significance, nor has it ushered in real technological advancements of note. Arguably, it still has the same consumer fears and limitations it did five years ago.
Voice assistants like Apple's Siri, Google's Voice Assistant and Amazon's Alexa are all relatively adept at looking up information, playing music, controlling home appliances or reminding you when to take the chicken out of the oven.
However, significant effort has been made to simplify the digital shopping experience by connecting voice users to ecommerce retailers via voice commands.
Voice technology advocates promised smoother & smarter buying journeys, but has it become a mainstream pillar of retail commerce? Has checkout friction really been reduced thanks to voice tech?
It has indeed proved useful for customers to order consumables that they frequently purchase again and again, but it's hardly revolutionary, especially amid a GPT boom.
Is it still worth the time and effort for retailers to invest? Unlike Amazon, will there be a ROI for retailers that are looking to add value to their consumer offerings through voice commerce?
What is Voice Commerce?
Voice Commerce (or V-Commerce) is a type of ecommerce that allows customers to use voice commands to search for and subsequently purchase products online.
This is usually achieved through a voice assistant like Google Home, Apple's Siri, or Amazon's Alexa.
It's proficient in tackling the most natural form of communication, which is indeed - talking. It entirely removes the user's reliance on physical hardware such as keyboards or screens.
Fortunately, it's not all binary; voice commerce is not reliant on specific commands to purchase immediately. The majority of voice assistants are capable of engaging in conversation with the user to help solve a problem or find what they're looking for online.
Examples of Voice Commerce in Retail
It's not yet a staple of retail operations or a paragon of customer experience, but voice commerce can assist retailers and consumers alike with tasks such as:
Low stock notifications for retailers & customers.
Suggesting product recommendations and alternatives for shoppers.
Order tracking and delivery notifications.
Voice commands can help people with accessibility issues with screens and keyboards.
Process orders without manual intervention.
Benefits of Voice Commerce
Increased convenience: Voice commerce is exceptionally convenient for customers; they can make purchases without screens, keyboards, etc. This is ideal for on-the-go multitasking consumers in the middle of tasks like driving, cooking or entertaining their children.
Personalised recommendations: Voice-activated devices and their respective AI can learn a user's preferences and make suggestions based on their previous purchases. This can lead to increased sales and customer satisfaction, facilitated by convenience and speed to checkout.
Increased brand awareness: When customers use voice commerce to make a purchase, they are likelier to be exposed to the brands that have optimised their products for voice search. This can lead to increased brand awareness and loyalty. Remember, Google Shopping is a major facilitator of voice commerce, so get optimising.
Accessibility for consumers: For shoppers with visual & physical impairments, voice assistants are a beacon of convenience. Even technology like Apple's upcoming Vision Pro can be used with gestures and voice commands, whilst also featuring a built-in screen reader via VoiceOver.
Even the most sceptical retailers who may not acknowledge a genuine need to even optimise websites for voice search optimisation should consider the potential rewards.
For retailers with products are listed within Google Shopping, they’ll be accessible to any consumers using voice search.
Retailers who want to take advantage of voice commerce need to ensure their websites and mobile apps are optimised for voice search with clear and concise language.
Voice search queries vary from text-based searches and often consist of organic conversational phrases. By optimising product descriptions, metadata, and keywords for voice search, retailers can potentially increase their ranking prominence in voice-enabled search results.
Challenges & Limitations of Voice Commerce for Retailers
You know that old saying, right? With great power comes great responsibility.
Voice Commerce is still widely regarded as a threat to consumer data and privacy (are they listening to us? 👀) Voice transactions involve disclosing sensitive information, therefore, providing stringent robust security measures are essential.
Integrating voice biometrics, multi-factor authentication, and encryption techniques can increase the security of voice-enabled transactions and alleviate their concerns to create consumer confidence.
Retailers need to be transparent about how they collect and utilise customer data.
Aside from privacy concerns, it's faced with the unique challenge of ensuring accurate voice recognition and interpretation.
Voice commerce requires a strong technical infrastructure in place, including a website or mobile app that is optimised for voice search with the ability to process voice commands in real-time.
Alexa & Co must understand and comprehend user commands accurately to provide relevant product recommendations and process transactions smoothly.
There's also a lack of standards and regulations surrounding voice commerce.
The market is arguably still in its early stages, and there are no defined industry standards for processes like voice commands or data formats.
This can make it difficult for retailers to develop and maintain voice commerce solutions.
The aforementioned challenges and concerns around voice commerce means that not all banks or credit card companies allow purchases to be made through voice assisted devices.
Additionally, there's a lack of real information on the true capabilities of voice assistants.
Many consumers refrain from buying or using voice assistants because they feel like they have little-to-no knowledge of how to use them, their capabilities, and if there are risks involved in using one.
The Future of Voice Commerce
The future of voice technology is undeniably bright, with huge scope for growth and innovation. As voice technology continues to evolve, we can expect far more advanced and intuitive voice interactions.
However, until technology like voice commerce and augmented reality devices escape the four walls of domesticity, the majority of retailers will likely be reluctant to leverage the potential of voice-controlled AI (not to mention the price and concerns around privacy).
Perhaps more retailers will begin to invest the necessary resources to galvanise voice commerce when emerging tech like augmented and virtual reality is widely available to consumers.
With Apple's Vision Pro on the horizon, it will inevitably enable customers to visualise products through voice commands to create immersive shopping experiences.