Why Voice-Activated Shopping Will Dramatically Change the Retail Business

“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 regard to completing purchases. But in the next three years, the tools will likely shape — and service — the retail market in response to rising consumer demands for enhanced customer service, Capgemini predicted in its report “Conversational Commerce: Why Consumers Are Embracing Voice Assistants in Their Lives.”

“Today, around a quarter [24 percent] say they would use a voice assistant rather than a website. 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,” Mark Asher, director of corporate strategy at Adobe, said 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,” the report stated.

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 websites,” 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 stated. Voice assistants stand to fill a widening gap between consumer demands and faltering personalization features.

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

“Walmart partnered with Google to provide highly personalized voice shopping. It recently launched its voice platform to allow consumers to shop more than 2 million Walmart 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 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 safekeeping data, shoppers continue to demand expedited, efficient and customized shopping experiences. Shelley Bransten, SVP of retail at Salesforce, echoed the state of consumer demand, and the role of the retailer, in a recent interview with FN sister publication 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 a 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,” said Johan Wrede, global VP of strategic marketing for SAP Hybris. “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.”

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.

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