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Voice Retail Is a Red Herring – Unless It’s for Groceries and Shampoo

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Everyone in the retail marketing sector seems to be talking about Voice search and Voice assistants, and yes, it has seen remarkable growth in the past few years. But a note of caution: the tech is still an emerging concept.

It’s exciting and has enormous potential, but right now, are we really going to use this technology to buy our new iPhone, writing desk or wardrobe? There’s no question that we will – one day. What I’m less convinced about is whether there’s any first-mover advantage in adopting Voice right here, right now.

As Voice technology gains more trust, the volume of purchases and their average price will increase.

The statistic everyone quotes – that by 2022, more than half of US homes would have a smart speaker – is now a couple of years old. It may well be true, but perhaps a better question might be to ask if, by then, most of us will still just be using voice to check the weather or play the latest Ariana Grande hit?

Doing Your Research

When it comes to shopping, and in particular for first-time and more expensive purchases, the world is still largely old-school. Many of us want to touch and feel the product – or at the very least see it. Even online retail in sectors like consumer technology is still largely driven by great images and extensive content we want to read in detail. We want to see the exact specification of the TV and what it looks like before we click on ‘Buy Now’.

Voice currently lags behind when it comes to the research part of the retail journey. When looking at a screen we can cross-reference between tabs to compare different products and swiftly bring up the page we just closed.

Compare that to searching on a voice assistant. Firstly, how descriptive can it really be? The same number of words we’ll happily read on an Amazon page may take too long to say out loud – and can you honestly say that you’ll remember a technical specification that the Voice assistant told you ten minutes ago before it also told you about those two other, very similar products?

The Opportunity Is in Repeats

Right now, Voice works best for repeat, commoditized purchases in sectors like groceries and FMCG goods, were seeing the product is less relevant. In fact, brands in those sectors have to include Voice as part of their e-commerce strategy.

When brands are bidding on search terms, it’s worth remembering that people search on platforms like Amazon differently to how they search on Google – and Voice is unlikely to change that approach. It’s less about complex questions and often more about identifying keywords and simple descriptive phrases, so companies need to try to own that space.

There is an enormous opportunity for FMCG brands to begin taking control of voice searches and striving to become the recommended go-to when people ask Alexa to “buy shampoo” or “add tinned peaches to shopping list”.

Becoming Frictionless

Even with FMCG, Voice retail involves a limited shopping list that best enables consumers to focus on repeat and ad hoc purchases. It’s also a big conversation to go through the entire week’s shopping list, so many people will just add to it bit by bit as they suddenly realize, for example, that they’ve run out of black pepper.

But in those sectors, voice is a route towards frictionless commerce, moving from One-Click to ‘no click’ shopping.

Don’t Fall for the Hype

Clearly then, for those offering repeat and commoditized purchases, the voice opportunity right now is very real. Also real is the pressing need to keep pace as the use of Voice develops – the need for an entirely new strategy based around how people use voice search and also what type of content they’re able to provide to potential customers is ever-pressing.

Yet there’s a whole host of brands for which it would be wiser to wait and see, to acknowledge that until Voice can offer something as close to the experience that ‘traditional’ online shopping does, it’d be better to play the long game.

As Voice technology gains more trust, the volume of purchases and their average price will increase. But consumer needs will change as that happens; content will have to be bespoke, going beyond a spoken rendition of what’s on the existing Amazon page, with a tone and length that suits a very different communication format.

That’s the point at which those that seize the opportunity – and are willing to let Alexa and Google Assistant talk about them in the right way – will get a very real leg up on their rivals.

Read more: How Voice is Enhancing Service Across Industries

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