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The evolution of voice commerce

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Mannu Mathew
Mannu Mathew
With over four years of experience, Mannu Mathew specializes in business journalism with a focus on technology, the retail sector, D2C, and E-commerce brands. He is working as the Assistant Editor for India Retailing and Images Retail Magazine.

How voice shopping has evolved with time and advances in technology and how retailers are using it to personalise experiences

New Delhi: “Ok Google, where can I find the best phones near me,” or “Ok Google, show me red tees to buy” was a great leap in online shopping when it was launched some years ago. Soon, voice searches led to the introduction of voice-assisted shopping and fuelling the birth of voice commerce. The introduction of smart speakers like Alexa, Echo and Google Home all helped voice search and shopping in terms of devices that facilitate the operations.

Today, voice commerce is a thriving market with a projected transaction value of over $51 billion by 2028 from $21 billion in 2023 as per Research and Markets data.

The market is set to receive a boost with the estimated rise of smart speaker shipment to over 500 million units in 2024 as per data by Global Market Insights. Mobile phones which are another source for voice shopping will also act as a strong impetus for voice commerce and will grow with more and more affordable phones coming in.

“AI-based virtual assistants such as Echo, Alexa, and Google Home have significantly enhanced operations. They have made it possible for customers to shop hands-free, which is particularly beneficial for busy individuals or those with disabilities,” said Chirantan Sharma, Product Head, FNP (Formerly Ferns N Petals).

“The integration with these devices has also increased our platform’s accessibility, allowing users to shop from anywhere in their home and even on the move. The impact is profound in terms of customer convenience and satisfaction, leading to higher engagement rates and a boost in conversions,” added Sharma.

The evolution of voice commerce
Introduction of smart speakers like Alexa, Echo and Google Home all helped voice search and shopping in terms of devices that facilitate the operations | Credit: Pexels

As per data by PwC, people have used voice search for shopping food and groceries, booking dinner reservations and transportation. Clothing purchases stood last in voice commerce but are expected to increase by almost 22% in future with more advanced personalised experience and better product discovery options coming in.

Let’s take a look at how some leading retailers are using voice search…

Walmart

Walmart in 2019 introduced a shortcut that enables customers to order groceries through Apple’s voice assistant, Siri. By linking their Walmart and Siri accounts, users can add items to their Walmart cart through voice commands on their Siri-powered devices. This integration leverages machine learning to understand and fulfil generic requests based on each customer’s purchase history.

FNP

Gifting brand FNP (Formerly Ferns N Petals) has seen a growing trend in voice shopping especially among tech-savvy users. According to the company, the platform’s voice search feature has an accuracy rate of around 90%, it has also invested in refining voice recognition algorithms to understand diverse accents and speech patterns, especially considering the linguistic diversity in India.

“At present, the usage is low for our customers engaging in voice shopping. However, considering the broader industry trend where convenience and hands-free operation are becoming increasingly important, we are focusing on this,” said Sharma of FNP.

“The categories that witness the most voice searches on our platforms are flowers and personalised gifts,” added Sharma.

Amazon

Amazon is the first among the players to build and develop the concept of shopping through smart and connected devices. In a recent update to Amazon’s voice assistant, users can now convert handwritten shopping lists to digital ones using the “scan” feature in the Alexa Shopping List.

Additionally, the “Shop Your List” feature allows users to seamlessly place Amazon fresh or whole foods market orders directly from the Alexa app, offering a convenient one-stop shopping experience.

Flipkart

In 2021, Flipkart introduced voice search functionality on its platform. This feature allowed customers to search for products using speech commands. The Voice Search is capable of helping users search through the product catalogue using colloquial commands, thereby reducing the friction points in their e-commerce journey, a release by the company said.

Domino’s

In 2014, Domino’s Pizza launched the voice assistant feature, Dom in the US, aiming to streamline pizza orders over the phone. Dom not only accepts orders but also provides users with updates on their order status. Dom has recorded half a million orders since its launch. With 50% of sales now coming from digital platforms, Dom’s hands-free technology has proven popular, contributing to Domino’s achievement. The mobile app adds a personalised and seamless experience, allowing users to place orders through voice commands, suggesting additional items, and preventing smartphones from sleeping during the process.

Johnnie Walker

Johnnie Walker, the scotch whiskey brand, utilises a voice search feature to provide virtual assistance, offering users insights into its signature whiskey and fostering a connection with the brand. Through a series of questions tailored to users’ preferences, the voice search guides them to a personalised recommendation of the most suitable Johnnie Walker product.

“Voice control is a new and exciting technology that we were interested in trying. Alexa is the perfect service because its rapidly growing user base looks to it as a hub of innovative experiences from brands interested in having new conversations,” Stephanie Jacoby, vice president, Johnnie Walker North America said in an Amazon blog.

Burger King

In 2017, the American fast-food company used voice search in one of its ads, which raised controversies at the time due to its invasive nature. In a TV commercial, the presenter said, ‘OK, Google, what is the Whopper burger?’.

The voice was intended to trigger the Google Assistants on devices of viewers who had Google Home assistants or Android phones within listening range. The device would then open a Wikipedia page about the Whopper burger.

“Burger King saw an opportunity to do something exciting with the emerging technology of intelligent personal assistant devices,” a Burger King representative told media in 2017.

Voice shopping advantages

Voice shopping is all about ease. It offers a personalised shopping experience, saves typing effort and time and leads to better product discovery.

Literacy agnostic

Since it eliminates the need to type, voice commerce can be adopted by even those who cannot read or write. All they have to do is speak, which makes it universally adaptable. Now, with voice searches being offered in several regional languages by leading players in the field, its potential acceptance has increased much more.  

In 2021, Amazon India expanded its regional language offerings by introducing a voice shopping experience in Hindi followed by Marathi, Bengali, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu.

“Every month, tens of millions of customers visit Amazon in regional languages and 90% of the customers are from tier II and below cities,” Amazon India Director (Customer Experience and Marketing) Kishore Thota said to PTI.

Analysing that more than 75% of internet users in India come from non-English speaking backgrounds, Flipkart also deployed an in-house natural language understanding and text-to-speech methodology for Indian languages.

Personalised experience

A device that assists in voice shopping can also provide recommendations that align with individual preferences. For instance, if a person asks for a daily essential product through a smart speaker, the voice assistant powered by different large language modules (LLM) can suggest products in addition to the one asked to order. This recommendation is revealed with the existing data pool and history of searches that are with the product and associated device. The ability to offer personalised shopping is directly linked with increased sales.

Product Discovery

The instructions to the device and its data on previous purchases help in better product discovery resulting in error-free and accurate results.

Review of the product

Voice-enabled devices are a great way to gather feedback from consumers.

Efficiency and Multitasking

The PwC data adds that smart speakers play a major role in comparison to mobile phones as people can choose to search for products while doing other work which saves time.

Future of Voice Commerce

Experts say that companies anticipate further integration of AI into smart devices to understand customer preferences better, leading to more personalised shopping experiences. Additionally, advancements in natural language processing will make voice interactions more seamless. Different retailers are exploring innovative features like voice-based payment authorisation and personalised voice shopping assistants.

AI will also play a pivotal role in powering voice recognition systems, ensuring they accurately interpret customer commands. AI also helps in understanding user preferences and search patterns, which aids in delivering more relevant search results and product recommendations.

More insightful and stimulating conversations on technology trends in retail are expected at the Phygital Retail Convention (PRC) 2024.

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