Voice Assistants: A New Mobile Frontier for Merchants, Part II of II

In my previous article, we took a look at the rise in adoption of voice-activated personal assistants by consumers. This follow-up will examine the effect that the rise in voice assistant adoption will have on the merchant landscape.

Voice-activated assistants, such as Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri, are allowing consumers to control home automation functions, play music, and stay up to date on news without lifting a finger.  Currently, only a small population of merchants such as Domino’s Pizza, Uber, Walmart, and Amazon have focused on allowing consumers to make purchases via this new and exciting channel.  As the massive consumer base of voice assistant users gets more comfortable with these devices and their interfaces, merchants will not be able to ignore the opportunity this channel represents.

When developing an effective strategy for engaging with personal assistant users, merchants might be tempted to leverage what they have in place for their existing mobile or web users.  A roadmap that mimics existing channels would most likely prove short-sighted if merchants have not considered a few key factors:

User interface

Using the personal assistant should be just as easy, if not easier than using other channels.

Personal assistants do not have a standardized user interface, so any experience a merchant creates must be intuitive and flexible.  Listing multiple options in a mobile app is easy to do through a visual medium, but having a personal assistant read off more than a couple of options is certainly inefficient.  Any proposed functionality should be focused enough to be efficient, and useful enough that voice-activated channels provide an advantage over more established digital channels.  A good example of this is requesting Alexa to send a car to your home to pick you up through the Lyft skill without having to use a phone.  Users simply have to say “Alexa, ask Lyft to send me a ride.”  Since Alexa has already been linked to your Lyft profile, no other information is needed to fulfill this request.  When your Lyft arrives you can use your mobile device to enter a destination.

Account management

Unlike with mobile applications on a phone or tablet, a single device no longer implies a single user.  One voice assistant in the house could mean multiple users on the same device.  Does the merchant need to differentiate who is making the request?  If so, will the personal assistant determine this by a unique code or password?  Or will the personal assistant use voice recognition to determine who is making the request?  Is it even necessary for your personal assistant consumers to use a registered account?  For example, the Domino’s Pizza Alexa skill will allow unregistered users to place orders that are paid with cash.

Motivations for use

Think about the environmental circumstances that might be driving your potential users to the voice assistant channel.  Are their hands full, and therefore using a mobile device should not be used for safety concerns?  Is this action something that the user has planned ahead, or the result of a spontaneous action?  Are there just one or two functions that are most efficiently executed with voice commands?  When a consumer engages the USAA Banking Alexa skill, they are able to interact with it just like how they would a human teller.  It can easily handle questions like “How much did I spend while on my vacation last month?” without follow-up questions for additional detail.  This type of functionality doesn’t replace a human teller or a rich web experience, but it does increase the convenience for some basic tasks.  No need to fire up the computer or dial a call center.


When building a skill from scratch, expect the early users to be the consumers that are most familiar with your products or services.  Focus the skill on experiences that they would find most useful, rather than trying to offer all the same functionality that a web or mobile experience might yield.  Plan to educate your consumers now that they have a new channel they can leverage to interact with your business.

Thinking through the above factors is a great place to start if you think this channel might be right for your organization.  While the channel might not be right for every kind of functionality a merchant has to offer, almost every organization can provide some sort of voice-activated offering that adds value to the consumer experience.  It is important to have a focused, efficient, and thoughtful approach to designing a voice-activated experience for your consumers.

For further discussion, contact Chris at [email protected]

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