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A quick guide to voice commerce

How and why voice commerce is transforming the e-commerce landscape for consumers and brands alike.


What is voice commerce and how does it work?

Voice commerce refers to a set of technologies and systems that enable consumers to search, find, explore, and purchase products and services using a combination of their voice and a compatible device — such as a tablet, smartphone, or smart speaker (e.g., Amazon Alexa, Google Home, etc.).

The engine that enables voice commerce is vocal recognition technology. It uses a device’s microphone to capture (i.e., “listen for”) voice commands, and respond accordingly. Behind the scenes, this is what is going on:

  • The voice command is broken down into individual sounds
  • Each individual sound is analyzed, so that it can be digitized into a computer-readable format
  • An algorithm is used to match the (now digitized) voice command to the most suitable text representation (i.e., the most probable word fit)
  • The device verbalizes the best possible response

Vocal recognition technology is not yet an exact science. Indeed, anyone who has asked their digital assistant an ordinary question like “When is it going to stop raining?”, only to be told “Yes, it is raining!” will readily attest to this (sometimes annoying) truth.

However, one of the most remarkable aspects of vocal recognition technology is that it gets smarter the more you interact with it. This is because each voice command increases the algorithm’s knowledge of a given language. What’s more, the algorithm becomes more efficient at correctly grasping the context of a voice command. It can even astutely detect and correct mistakes made by a speaker.

Chapter 2

COVID-19 accelerated growth of voice commerce

Voice commerce is surging — especially over the last couple of years, as millions of people around the world found themselves, by preference or necessity, ordering products online and increasingly using their voice to carry out the transaction. And a majority of people who had adopted these digital channels for the first time said they’d continue to use them post-pandemic.

Consider the following:

One of the most remarkable things about vocal recognition technology is that it gets smarter the more you interact with it.

Chapter 3

What are the benefits of voice commerce?

There are several benefits of voice commerce that, for consumers around the world, are rapidly transforming it from a novel shopping alternative into a basic requirement:

  • Convenience: Voice commerce is not just convenient for consumers who know precisely what they want, from where, and for how much. Voice commerce is even more convenient for consumers who need additional information (e.g., size, model, color, price, etc.), before making a final decision. In either scenario — consumers who know exactly what they want, and consumers who need to discover and decide what they want — the shopping journey is usually fast, smooth, and satisfying.
  • Personalization: As mentioned earlier, the vocal recognition technology that drives voice commerce uses an AI engine that gets smarter over time and makes all facets of the shopping experience — searching, evaluating, and purchasing — more personal and familiar. Indeed, rather than feeling as if they are interacting with a robot, consumers can feel like the interactions are friendly.
  • Hands-free shopping: In recent years, a number of countries and jurisdictions around the world have made it illegal to operate a device, such as a smartphone, while driving. Voice commerce enables drivers to purchase products, but without taking their hands off the wheel or their eyes off the road. Hands-free shopping also enables consumers to complete a purchase while they are doing other tasks.
  • Order tracking: Consumers who want to track their order no longer have to search (in some cases fruitlessly) for an email with a tracking link. Instead, they can simply ask “where’s my order?” for a rapid, accurate answer.

At the same time, voice commerce is providing key benefits to brands, including:

  • Expanded discovery opportunities: Voice commerce can play a key role in helping brands introduce new products (and product options) to consumers. For example, a consumer who wants to purchase a new power bank for their smartphone can be informed that it is now available in silver or white. Or a consumer who wants to have flowers delivered for Mother’s Day can get recommendations on what to buy.
  • Easy re-ordering: Brands can use voice commerce to make it even easier and faster for consumers to re-order products, such as contact lenses or household cleaners. Since the costs of acquiring a customer can be significantly higher than selling to an existing one, this is a significant advantage for brands — and it also makes life easier for consumers, too. Everyone wins.
  • Improved sales and customer experience: More consumers are adding smart displays (touchscreens) in their home, so they can watch videos and look at pictures while shopping (and carrying out other tasks like checking the weather, following a recipe step-by-step, etc.). Brands can leverage this in-home infrastructure by aligning their content with a voice experience, which instantly personalizes the experience for consumers.
  • Brand differentiation: With so many players existing and entering the e-commerce market, it is increasingly important — and increasingly difficult — for brands to distinguish themselves. Enabling consumers to discover and purchase products through voice commerce is a meaningful, memorable way for brands to stand out from the competition; especially if they want to target the lucrative 18-34 age group, which is currently the demographic that is most interested and open to using voice commerce.

Chapter 4

Voice commerce has come far — but there is more work to do

Voice commerce has a big and bright future — but, as with any technology, voice commerce still has its challenges and obstacles to overcome. These include:

  • Language challenges: Anyone who has attempted to learn a second non-native language has discovered — and probably to their dismay and frustration — that even people who speak the same language can have substantially different modes and methods of expression across vocabulary, word choice, word order, dialect, and even tone. Well, vocal recognition technology algorithms face these difficulties as well. And while advanced natural language processing (NLP) technology is doing a remarkable job of bridging these gaps, they nevertheless still exist — and can add some traffic jams and speed bumps on what should otherwise be a smooth, straightforward customer journey.
  • Privacy concerns: Understandably, consumers are worried about the information they provide falling into the wrong hands. At best, this could lead to unwanted marketing attempts, such as spam, or what consumers perceive as spam because they do not recall granting permission in the first place. It could lead to identity theft and information access that leads to a long, stressful, and costly process to fix. Brands need to invest in adequate InfoSec controls, achieve and maintain all applicable compliance (e.g., GDPR), and proactively inform consumers what information is being retained, why it is being retained, how it will be stored, and how it will be used. Consumers want brands they can trust.
  • Integration with banks and credit card companies is not total: Not surprisingly, voice commerce is facing the same obstacle that conventional e-commerce experienced when it arrived on the mainstream scene in the 1990s and early 2000s: not all banks and credit card companies allow purchases through voice commerce. The good news is that this is changing. The bad news is that change in the conventional bank and credit card industry takes a while. As such, some consumers will either need to shift from voice commerce to conventional (browser-based) e-commerce, phone, or in-person shopping — or switch or store their banks or credit cards to one that is more voice commerce-friendly.
  • Lack of knowledge: While some “digital natives” have no hesitation about buying products through voice — this is not the case with all consumers, including those who have comfortably and confidently made dozens, hundreds, or perhaps even thousands of e-commerce purchases without voice in the last several years. However, as voice commerce becomes increasingly common and trusted, more consumers will likely adopt this form of purchase style into their everyday lives.
  • Hesitation regarding big ticket purchases: When it comes to buying things like flowers, grocery items, and other relatively lower-priced commodities, many people — especially younger age groups — have no qualms about voice commerce. Yet, when it comes to bigger ticket items, even some of those who routinely use voice commerce are hesitant. Indeed, research has found that more than 50 % of consumers said they would prefer to use voice commerce for products that are not of high value. Again, we can see a familiar parallel with conventional e-commerce — and can certainly predict a similar evolution. A couple of decades ago, many consumers were hesitant to use e-commerce for anything more than buying books and CDs (remember those?). Now, it’s becoming commonplace to use e-commerce to buy cars, boats, and even custom-designed new homes.


The future of voice commerce: AI, smart displays, and B2B opportunities

What lies ahead for voice commerce? There are several big trends that are taking root now, and that are also on the horizon for the years ahead. Here are some of the most interesting and exciting developments:

  • AI algorithms that are at the heart of speech recognition technology are becoming much more effective, thanks to better integration with NLP processing.
  • Smart displays are taking voice technology to the next level by adding the component of integrated touchscreens (current products that leverage this integrated technology include Amazon Echo Show and Google Home Hub). Through the touchscreen, consumers get something entirely new and exciting: instant visual feedback that drives further interaction based on intent and actions.
  • So far, voice commerce has largely been a B2C story. However, there are growing opportunities for B2B brands to leverage voice commerce, in order to drive operational, supply chain, and account management efficiencies — all of which are key differentiators for scaling and sustaining growth. For example, managers can simply ask supply chain-related questions and get quick, accurate answers vs. spending time navigating through complex dashboards. And account teams can rapidly update CRM records with voice commands — which is an option that Salesforce has already made available through its Einstein Voice for conversational CRM tool.


The final word

Voice commerce is already part of the everyday lives of millions of consumers — and as statics showed it will eventually become just as familiar to millions (and then billions) more. The potential benefits to brands and consumers are enormous, and indeed, transformative.

For additional information, dive into the Sitecore Knowledge Center, featuring content and insights on voice commerce, AI and machine learning, personalization, and more.

Learn how to future-proof your business with the composable commerce platform that scales to you by exploring Sitecore OrderCloud. Built as a cloud-based, API-first, headless ecommerce platform, Sitecore OrderCloud offers nearly limitless customizations and endless freedom for growth. Wherever your business needs to go tomorrow, you’re ready to lead the way. Learn more and request a demo.

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