Voice commerce is coming. In Q3 of 2018 alone, the number of smart speakers across the world grew nearly 200%. And according to Gartner, the smart speaker market will reach $3.5 billion in 2020. This new channel is creating a huge opportunity for forward—thinking brands. A Future Shopper survey found that 55% of voice users would be comfortable shopping completely by voice. In short, there’s a rapidly expanding cohort of customers you can tap into before your competitors — if you’re ready.

If you don’t have a plan in place to take advantage of the rapid expansion of voice, it’s time to start thinking about one. Voice is now a part of more devices than any other digital channel. But even as it’s quickly becoming a powerful interaction point for many individuals, it’s still flying under the radar of many organizations.

The “skills” to extend into voice

The way brands extend their reach into voice is by developing “skills.” Skills (called “actions” by Google) are to smart speakers what apps are to smartphones. Skills enable customers and prospects to engage naturally with your content using the unique channel of voice. A skill can be as simple as a response to an inquiry about open store hours. Or it can be as complex as a journey ending in a completed transaction, all done hands free and integrated with smart-screen technology.

(This latter skill was demonstrated recently in a session by Rameez Akram and Kendell Patrice at Sitecore Symposium 2019, using an Amazon Alexa Show device powered by Sitecore Experience Commerce.)

At a high level, skills consist of requests and responses. The skill takes what the user says (the request) and routes it to the appropriate service behind the scenes to retrieve and present information, perform an action, or both (the response).

Some brands are already pulling ahead

While many brands are still working on their voice strategy, including what skills need to be developed, several are paving the way:

  • Campbell’s Soup was the first consumer brand to create an Alexa skill in 2015 to share recipes with consumers. The skill has not only produced a noticeable rise in Google searches, but also allows Campbell’s to access user interaction data, an essential asset for improving CX that Amazon normally guards very closely.
  • Dominos, long at the forefront of customer experience, rolled out a pizza ordering skill that offers a simple yet capable online ordering experience for its customers. The result: 20% of one-click orders come through Alexa. Which is significant, given that 65% of Domino’s US sales come from digital channels.
  • Butterball provides expert turkey preparation and cooking tips to its customers all year round with their Alexa skill, including a pep talk option. It even builds its brand by not using the default Alexa voice, but the voice of its Turkey Talk-Line experts: Beth, Marge, and Christopher.

One thing all of these examples reveal is that voice is about more than just skills. To succeed in voice, brands need to consider how conversational interfaces can align and extend their existing business practices, with the goal of improving the overall customer experience.

Where to focus your efforts

So where can you focus your efforts as your brand begins or further develops its voice capability? Here are a few ways to get started (or keep moving):

  • Identify gaps or opportunities in your customer experience that can be addressed by voice. For example, in the kitchen via a smart speaker or smart screen, on a smart watch, in the car, or simply on mobile.
  • Invest in voice — technology and strategy. A voice channel is more about content than technology. From a technology perspective, your conversational channel needs to be integrated with your content platform. You’ll want to be able to manage your skills easily from a content perspective and measure their effectiveness and value. The harder part is ensuring voice is aligned with your overall strategy. Voice is increasingly accessible to an ever-widening demographic. You need to build a practice that increasingly recognizes a user’s context and deliver to their needs. Users should be able to interact with your brand in a way that’s comfortable to them, which means you need to prepare content that makes space for differences across geography, age, gender, etc. Ultimately people return to channels that are convenient and easy to use. This is the promise of voice. To use it well, you need to deliver on that promise.
  • Remember that voice responses are simply content. If managed efficiently by a digital experience platform, voice responses create opportunities for personalization. Seize the knowledge you have of the user to drive them toward a targeted outcome in a way that creates brand affinity and loyalty.

Why your solution matters

When it comes to extending into voice, your content management system (CMS), digital experience platform (DXP), and experience commerce system can all either create barriers or drive efficiencies.

Solutions with headless architectures streamline the delivery of voice experiences through application program interfaces (APIs). The way content is stored in your system also makes a difference. Whether a block of text or an image, if your content is stored as unique objects, instead of as whole pages, repurposing it for another channel, such as voice, can be done with ease.

Put simply, a CMS, DXP, or commerce system with the right architecture can make your entrance into voice commerce much smoother. And this is one of the reasons we’ve made all of our platforms headless with object-based architectures.

As the rapid increase of new channels like voice reveals, the commerce landscape is changing. Explore our guide, Experience Commerce: The Strategic Guide for Executives, to discover how you can respond to today’s market shifts and prepare for tomorrow’s.

With a passion for growth, improving CX, increasing lifetime customer value , and reducing cost per acquisition through digital, Jay Sanderson is the Global Experience Commerce Product Specialist at Sitecore. Follow him on LinkedIn.