How voice search is impacting customer experience in retail

Paul Fennemore, C-suite level customer experience consultant at Sitecore, examines the challenges retailers face with voice search.

Swift innovation by tech giants has moved voice-activated virtual assistants including Google Home and Amazon Echo into our homes almost overnight.

According to research by Mintel, 62% of Brits are now using, or are happy to use, voice-operated devices to search, check the news and shop. In the past year, nearly half of all owners of smart speakers used their device to make a purchase, with Amazon accounting for 85% of spending; a much higher volume than originally anticipated.

This is rapidly changing our shopping habits, in some cases, completely cutting out the research process of buying a product. Amazon Alexa can now recommend its ‘choice’ product to consumers and greatly simplify the route of purchase.

However, as of yet, very few retailers have developed their own capabilities to reap this growth in voice operated shopping. If they do not address voice as a serious new shopping channel, alongside web, mobile, instore, catalogue and more, they will be missing out on huge revenue opportunities.

But what does voice-based ordering mean for retailers who’ve historically invested huge amounts in enticing consumers to pick up their product from the shelves?

How will this innovation impact the customer experience? And how can retailers fully integrate voice with its other systems to ensure it’s useful for customers while driving growth for the retailer?

The challenge at hand

A spoken query is a direct window into what consumers want at that moment, as well as what they think about a topic, service or product. It also gives the added
convenience of being able to conduct search whilst on the go as users can speak a query rather than having to type it out.

Much like search, developments in voice technology enable marketers to find ways to build more customer-centric engagement strategies through contextual real time data.

However, there are several challenges that retailers face with this innovation.

Being at the top of the list

Firstly, voice search in ecommerce removes brands and strips marketing back to its core: The brands that everyone else searches for will be at the top of search engine results. Therefore, marketing teams need to ensure when shoppers ask Alexa to “Add butter to my basket”, it is their product that is at the top of the list and purchased. This means ensuring customers know specifically what product to ask for – a key job for marketing.

Integrating voice with other core systems

Next, voice requests will only return personalised useful results to the user, in the right context and at the right time, if they are integrated with other data and insights from their entire profile. This should include location, browsing history, shopping habits, recent purchases and brand affiliations for example. It’s therefore essential that the retailer ensures voice is integrated into its existing systems such as CRM, ERP and logistics systems.

Using voice appropriately

Finally – and most importantly – retailers need to consider how to engage the customer in a two-way dialogue in order to ensure they can use voice search to upsell and cross sell effectively. This doesn’t mean using the connected speaker to physically talk to the customer. Instead, consider how to interest them in products that are different to what they normally purchase to ensure you’re adding value.

For example, if a voice-activated virtual assistant is connected to a coffee machine, the coffee brand that provides the pods will know from the consumers previous order history what coffee flavours they like and can send a push notification for an offer when they may be running low. However, you should also use these notifications to inform customers about promotions and new products. Retailers need to consider the appropriate channel for these notifications to ensure they are not invading privacy. The ability to take orders through voice, but cross promote that same engagement later via email or through an application, is critical.

Given the growth of connected speakers and voice search, retailers cannot afford to ignore it as a marketing and sales channel. But, it will only be a success if integrated with existing data and systems, as well as promotion of their voice capabilities to ensure customers ask for the ‘right’ thing and that the right products are presented back.

While it may seem like a niche medium right now, so too did the internet when it was first introduced and look how that turned out for retailers who ignored the changing times.

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