The Voice Assistant: A New Mobile Frontier for Merchants, Part I of II

Voice activated personal assistants like Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri have exploded onto the scene.  It’s expected that by 2022, 50% of US households will have at least one smart speaker with personal voice assistant capability.[1]   While the number of devices in use is huge, the functionality they currently offer is just the tip of the iceberg.
Most people are using voice-activated assistants to manage their home automation, play music, and stay up to date on news and weather, but these devices also offer the possibility to make purchases using a stored wallet that can authorize purchases using the owners’ voice.  Currently 29% of these device owners have used their voice to make at least one purchase.[2]  Given the relative newness of this technology, this statistic is significant, especially when we consider the low adoption rates of users who have utilized Apple Pay to perform a contactless transaction. Anyone who wishes to tap into a new payment modality should take note of this – the number of users that use their voice to complete a purchase is only expected to increase. Merchants who wish to support voice commerce must understand the challenges that exist in developing a user interface and perfecting an experience that can only be heard, not seen.

Current Voice Assistant Landscape

Of the 30million homes that currently have one of these devices in them, Amazon’s Alexa dominates with 70% market share.[3] The Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Samsung’s Bixby are all considered top offerings from the world’s largest brands.  There are also many smaller, independent offerings attempting to carve out a niche for themselves. Many of these devices are intended to be fixed in the home but manufacturers have on eye on making them more mobile. Apple’s Car Play allows its mobile devices to seamlessly integrate with car entertainment systems, but Amazon is making headway in this space with an agreement to have Alexa preinstalled in all BMWs starting in mid-2018.

Voice Assistants as a Commerce Channel

Alexa can place orders from Amazon for any specific items that a consumer requests. It will also provide suggestions if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for.  Google’s Assistant has partnered with Walmart to fulfill customer purchases.  Third party integrations with these devices are currently limited, but there are a few merchants taking advantage of this channel.
Domino’s Pizza and Starbucks both allow users to order and pay for purchases using their voice once they have linked their device to an account.  The same is true for Uber and Lyft, who will send a car to your location using voice commands.  Customers are enjoying the novelty of this functionality, but businesses hoping to engage their customers through this channel must carefully design a simple, effective, and easy to use experience.
Strategies that worked for engaging consumers on the internet, their mobile devices, or in their inboxes might not be the same ones that are effective with these personal assistants.  The experience must be smooth and efficient otherwise the consumer will revert to a more familiar experience. Part II of this article will take a closer look at the components of an effective strategy for enabling commerce through these personal assistants.

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