At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this week, Google announced that Google Assistant will be available on 1 billion devices, including TVs and kitchen appliances, by the end of January. Meanwhile, Amazon has sold more than 100 million Alexa devices as of the holiday season. Voice search has never been more popular; voice commerce, less so. Could 2019 be its year?
According to eMarketer, voice commerce accounted for $2.1 billion last year, representing just 0.4% of online sales. However, Greg Hedges, VP of Emerging Experiences at digital agency Rain, thinks it’s a bit premature to say voice commerce hasn’t hit critical mass yet.
“The story remains unwritten,” he says. “Could we have predicted the power of voice today, before Alexa and Google Assistant hit the market, just by judging Siri in 2011? We’re already seeing behaviors and an infrastructure established around voice assistants today and an extension of that includes shopping.”
The voice commerce customer journey
Countless brands have Alexa and Google Home skills and not all of them are necessarily geared toward voice commerce. Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts and Domino’s allow people to place orders vocally. On the other hand, Campbell’s was the first brand to develop an Alexa skill, which serves as a virtual kitchen assistant. Lego has a content marketing-oriented skill with interactive storytelling for kids.
These disparate foci demonstrate that even if most people aren’t purchasing via voice, the technology still factors into the customer journey. Hedges believes that as we use voice more, it will naturally lead to more voice commerce.
“Look at where Amazon and Google have gone over the past few years, and you’ll see fingerprints of where this is heading already,” he says. “In-skill purchasing, Amazon Pay for Alexa skills, Shopping Actions, and Google Express: These voice services are further supporting our existing device infrastructure with the ability for brands and individuals to create and foster shopping through voice experiences.”
While Alexa’s skillset has doubled over the past year, fairly basic skills remain the most common. According to Voicebot research, the three most-common daily uses are listening to music, checking the weather and search queries. Comscore predicted that by 2020, half our search engine queries will be conducted via voice.
Challenges of voice commerce
One key challenge around voice commerce is that it’s not easier than the alternatives. Search is obviously a crucial element in researching products. But unless you’re using a device with a screen such as Google Home Hub or Echo Show, you can’t see the products.
“With a screen, you can show facets and filters. When you’re getting results by voice, it takes more time for a person to be able to ingest,” says Eli Finkelshteyn, CEO of AI search company Constructor.
Additionally, it takes longer to hear the results than see them on a screen. According to a Business Insider survey, 85% of consumers choose the default option while voice shopping.
Looking toward the future
For Finkelshteyn, this is both a challenge and an opportunity for brands. He foresees voice commerce being a part of the brick-and-mortar shopping experience in the near future.
“The technology is already there; now, we’re working on implementing it,” he says. “Maybe you’ll go to a store and there will be a kiosk where you can search by voice the way you’d interact with a store clerk.”
That hypothetical kiosk could function similarly to mobile apps that double as interactive maps of stores like Target and Walmart. It could also be incredibly helpful somewhere like The Home Depot, which has a tremendous inventory of similar products. The brand’s website has more than 7,000 screws. The project you’re shopping for likely calls for just one of them.
That’s not to say brands aren’t also innovating for voice commerce at home. In October, Amazon patented a new technology that would enable Alexa to detect a user’s emotions and current state of mind. For example, Alexa could recognize an audible cue such as a cough or a scratchy voice and then prompt someone to order medicine. Who knows? Maybe by the time this predictive twist on voice commerce is ready, Amazon may have also figured out five-minute delivery.