i3 | June 21, 2018

Speak to Me

Susan Schreiner
Speaking into cell phone

ELIZA, one of the first chatbots, was introduced more than 50 years ago. But it wasn’t until Siri in 2011, Alexa in 2014, and Facebook’s Bots launch in 2016, that the mass market noticed conversational assistants.

Chatbots are ushering in a new era of man-machine interaction that goes far beyond information retrieval applications that rely on simple question-answer system constructs. As machines learn how to speak and perform human functions, voice and AI will enable e-commerce and retailers to deliver differentiated consumer experiences that will transform, disrupt and enhance shopping through the most intuitive way of interacting with devices: voice communications.

Voice control products are changing customer behavior. Between Amazon Alexa and Google Home, nearly 30 million voice devices have been sold in the U.S. Today, 26 percent of U.S. smart speaker owners have made a purchase by voice. One in four people have placed an order or executed a monetary transaction on a screenless device, according to Voicebot.ai’s Smart Speaker Consumer Adoption Report.

Voice: Making Shopping Easier

As traditional retail faces turbulent times, e-commerce is being reimagined. In 2017, roughly one percent of retailers and brands said they were investing in voice experiences. In early 2018, that percentage rose to 50 percent, with many companies understanding that voice is playing a pivotal role in the consumer experience when it comes to searching for and buying items on a mobile device.

Many websites and mobile apps are improving the shopping experience with natural language to bring new efficiencies and engagement. For example, retail giant Alibaba is using “very simple natural language processing” to answer a huge volume of customer queries for their popular November 11 Single’s Day sale. “There are so many customers, if you don’t use any machines to help you to reply to their questions, you will be in trouble,” said Assistant Professor Lu Wei from the Information Systems Technology and Design Pillar at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

As software, AI and machine learning advance, people will be able to search, transact and create wish lists, with voice creating a personalized experience. Customers will simply browse and purchase via voice rather than typing, regardless of device.

By 2020, more than 400 million devices will connect with voice-based platforms, including consumer tech products like watches, phones and appliances as well as Alexa and other smart speakers, according to Cowen Research.

Google vs. Amazon

The competition between Amazon and Google for voice shopping is heating up. In March 2018 Google introduced its Google’s Shopping Actions program, to enable retailers to compete against Amazon while their customers are shopping on a mobile de vice. Last August, Google partnered with Walmart to enable voice shopping from Walmart only through Google Home devices. Amazon followed with a partnership enabling Amazon Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana to communicate with each other.

Google’s Shopping Actions program allows retailers to list their products on Google Search, the Google Express shopping service and the Google Assistant for mobile phones and enabled devices like Google Home. It gives customers an easy, voice-driven shopping experience across Google. A shareable list, universal shopping cart and instant checkout with saved payment credentials works across Google and the Google Assistant – allowing a store’s customers to seamlessly turn browsing into buying. Target, Walmart, Ulta Beauty, Costco and Home Depot have signed up.

Technology on the Move

With the rise of AI, machine learning and deep neural networks, speech technology is becoming more sophisticated. Found in everything from smartphones and smart speakers to appliances and automobiles, voice tech will provide immense business value. Voice is expected to be how consumers soon will interact with retailers and brands alike to provide a frictionless experience, regardless of platform or channel.

May/June 2018 i3 Cover Issue

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