Voice commerce is an incredibly buzzy topic. 

From ad agencies to tech companies to brands and retailers, everyone is fascinated by how voice assistants - Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Google’s Assistant, to name a few - would impact the online shopping experience.

Voice shopping has been collectively identified as “the next big thing,” and it still has the potential to deliver on that superlative. Yet the reality of voice commerce is a bit more complicated and worth unpacking. 

Advantages of Voice Commerce

Voice commerce is a relatively simple concept. Via voice-enabled tech, customers can order and purchase products online. All that you need is an enabled device, like the Amazon Echo or Google Home. Your virtual assistant will not only help you locate a product but also complete the purchasing process, eliminating any need for a computer, smartphone, keyboard, etc.

In theory, voice search simplifies and speeds up the browsing and purchasing process. It can be accomplished anywhere, at any time - while showering, driving, cooking, working out. It’s hands-free, which makes it more accessible. And best of all, it relies on a virtual assistant to track down a product for you, saving time. 

Customers readily identify these advantages of voice commerce as top factors in why voice-activated shopping is exciting to them.

For eCommerce brands, voice shopping also provides easy ways to streamline a customer’s shopping choices and minimize competitors’ opportunities. If your customers become accustomed to purchasing via voice, and your business has made it easier for them to do so, then they’re not likely to shop on a site that doesn’t support voice.

For example, Amazon customers can use Alexa-enabled devices to order products straight from their Amazon account. They’ll say, “Alexa, order . . .” and Alexa can compare their request to their purchase history, suggest Amazon Choice products, etc.

Amazon’s primary competitors, such as Walmart and Target, have similarly partnered with Google to let customers purchase products from their sites via Google Assistant. If a Walmart customer elects to sync their Walmart account with Google, then they’ll experience the same functionality that they could via Alexa. 

Even companies that don’t necessarily sell products, but rather services, are taking advantage of voice recognition technology. Consider Bank of America, whose app now includes “Erica,” a voice-activated virtual financial assistant. Erica has been immensely popular with customers, completing over 50 million client requests as of May 2019. Bank of America has seen daily client engagement double, an obvious win for voice commerce.

Personal Data vs. Privacy

Yet while customers may revel in the ease with which they can now order products via voice commands, they’re still incredibly wary about how companies are tracking and using their personal data.

It’s a catch-22 for eCommerce brands, as many artificial intelligence solutions require connectivity between a customer account and a voice assistant. This connectivity gives eCommerce brands vast insights into customer purchasing behaviors and habits, allowing them to personalize recommendations. 

But from a customer perspective, while you can tell Alexa to reorder that printer ink you purchased four months ago, you may also have to contend with Amazon now sending you targeted ads, promos, etc. about ink, printer paper, new printers, etc.

Fascinatingly, customers want the ease of personalization, but don’t want to feel as though smart speakers are “eavesdropping” on them, or that companies are exploiting their information. 

According to Episerver’s 2020 online shopping habits and retailer strategies report, 53% of customers from all over the world indicated that retailers need to respect online anonymity in 2020 and treat it as a higher priority. Yet 60% want companies to prioritize personalization as much as they did last year. This desire for both convenience and anonymity is a challenging paradox for eCommerce brands. 

Indeed, lack of trust and privacy concerns seem to be the primary inhibitor to adoption. In fact, a study released in February 2020 found that voice commerce had actually declined when compared to the previous year, with 33% of consumers saying that the lack of security features will stop them from making more purchases via voice-enabled devices. Another 36% of customers believe that smart devices are always listening, making them reluctant to even have one in their home, let alone regularly use one.

Yet despite these consumer concerns, voice technology is undeniably influencing eCommerce, and is poised to play a significant role. eMarketer predicts that in 2020, 76.5 million Americans will be using smart speakers, and another study forecasts that 55% of U.S. households will have them by 2022.

Voice commerce and privacy concerns graphic
Consequently, eCommerce brands that can provide clear privacy policies, customer opt-ins/opt-outs for specific levels of information-sharing, and other privacy-focused features, may be in a position to capitalize on this emerging technology in ways that less transparent companies cannot. 

Next Steps

Voice commerce is indeed likely to be “the next big thing” in eCommerce. In addition to improving privacy policies, smart companies should assess their overall customer experience and determine which aspects can be scaled to include voice shopping. Is your website voice assistant accessible? Do you have an SEO strategy specific to voice? How can you piggyback on existing avenues (i.e. Google Assistant) to sell your products via voice?

If you’re not sure where to begin, reach out to the team of experts at Object Edge. We’re here to help. 

About the Author

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Sarah Falcon

VP, Marketing Global

Sarah is a nimble and creative marketing leader with 15 years of experience in a mix of agencies, B2B, and B2C enterprises. She brings a background in building and driving impactful marketing practices and processes for growing businesses. Sarah has expertise in brand, content marketing, lead generation, and marketing operations. She’s a co-author of the 2019 book on B2B eCommerce Digital Branch Secrets: eCommerce Playbook for Distributors.

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