Conversational commerce: Marketing finds its voice

John Gillan, MD, UK and Northern Europe, Criteo, investigates the growing popularity of voice assistants in marketing.

This year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas felt like the battle of the voice assistants with the established players, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant, facing competition from the likes of Sonos and even Whirlpool.

In 2017, Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo enjoyed around two-thirds of worldwide smart speaker sales, with most of the rest going to Google’s Home device, according to the market analyst firm Canalys.

Choice

But with Apple’s Homekit also entering the fray, the competition for shopper’s conversation is set to reach new levels in 2018. This choice, coupled with the technology’s ever-improving functionality, has seen the voice assistant quickly become mainstream technology with household penetration expected to exceed 40% by early this year, according to Radiocentre’s Getting Vocal study.

The popularity of the technology is starting to translate not only in to purchases, but in to changing consumer behaviour. Capgemini’s Digital Transformation Institute suggests that around a quarter (24%) of shoppers would rather use a voice assistant than a website while 31% prefer a voice assistant interaction to physically visiting a shop or a bank branch, compared to just 20% today.

The findings of Capgemini’s report should come as welcome news to retailers. With the rise of voice assistants, marketers are particularly well positioned to observe how shoppers are interacting with these services and use the data gathered to develop speech recognition and sentiment analysis – things which will help them build up an even better picture of their shoppers and improve the personalisation of their services and communications. In fact, brand managers believe that voice-activated devices and personal assistants will be the technology they work with the most in the next two years according to the findings from the Trade Marketing in Transition Report.

The interactive dynamic between shoppers and voice assistants changes how the rich data on shopper interests and preferences can benefit consumers as they become more accepting of tailored recommendations from their own personal assistant. With adoption of these platforms expected to take off over the coming years, shoppers should look forward to an increasingly customised service.

Retailers that have a thorough understanding of this data and can use it to provide contextual offers and relevant services stand to benefit from this new way of shopping.

But while we can all look forward to an increasingly voice-enabled future, the challenge for retailers will be a familiar one. Namely, joining up the journey of customers who browse across multiple devices including mobiles, desktops, tablets as well as personal assistants before making a purchase.

Shoppers expect brand interaction that’s individually tailored to them rather than to the device they happen to be using, regardless of where they ultimately choose to purchase on. This won’t change with voice searching and shopping reaching maturity. With shoppers more likely to buy on the most convenient device at the moment of purchase, it’s critical that retail marketers tailor each experience with a true understanding of their customer’s shopping journey and preferences cross-device.

Linking up this journey has always been important and shoppers will expect a seamless experience even with another way of shopping added to the mix. Some 46% of UK shoppers say they receive an inconsistent shopping experience from retailers when shopping across multiple channels according to our own research with IMRG and the increasing usage of voice-powered devices will only increase the need to join up data sets and deliver a consistently exceptional shopping experience.

Get these elements right, and marketers will find they’re able to strike up a lasting and valuable conversation with shoppers for years to come.

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