This past couple of weeks, the press has been talking about how few Amazon Alexa users have actually purchased products using the voice platform. Voicebot summarized voice shopping use among smart speaker owners, with the high estimate of 17% and a low end of just 2% having purchased something using a smart speaker. Allegedly, the 2% figure came from two anonymous Amazon insiders. This probably comes as a relief to brick and mortar retailers who don’t have 78% market share in voice or a seamless presence in their customer’s kitchens.
It shouldn’t. I often tell people that if the voice market was a baseball game we wouldn’t be in the first inning, it would be the first at-bat. Much like the rise of the dot-coms in the mid-1990’s when online retail was a fraction of a fraction of the total retail market, retail via voice is still so early that it is impossible for people outside the industry to tell how big it will get. As an industry insider though, I’ll tell you, it is going to be huge.
Voice is going to be one aspect of the future retail omnichannel. What is omnichannel you ask? It is a business’s ability to sell products to customers using whatever mechanism is most convenient for each customer. Sometimes this is a brick and mortar store – customers like touching, feeling and smelling products like fresh produce or clothing before they buy. It will be a website, or a dedicated app, or telephone order, or a smart speaker. Notice that voice is an intrinsic component of several of those touch points. The smart speaker is the most obvious, but as Google’s Duplex demo makes clear – voice assistants are coming to the call center sooner rather than later. They will also come to brick and mortar stores in the form of in-store kiosks, customer service stations and in the self-service point of sale systems.
Stores with a voice agent will have significant advantages over those without. From a customer service standpoint, voice-enabled stores will be able to provide instant service via telephone, smart speaker, or customer relations kiosk. Meanwhile, stores without will continue to have call queues, labor-intensive call centers, and lightly trained in-store representatives.
Voice-enabled retail will also provide superior service with brand consistency. The voice agent will be a domain expert on all products in the store and will have infinite patience with customers. Retailers will be able to provide quality service to customers regardless of which channel the customer chooses to engage.
Finally, by deploying voice technology in the home, retailers will get a much more detailed picture of their customer’s needs. Shopping will become less of a dedicated task that takes time from the customer’s day and more like … a visit to your mom’s house … where she has already filled the fridge with your favorite foods, purchased the Star Wars pajamas you (embarrassingly) like and has hot cocoa waiting for you when you come in out of the cold. With more data, retailers will be able to anticipate their customer’s needs and – by engaging naturally through voice – fulfill those needs seamlessly.
Amazon is already building this future. To survive, other retailers should take note. If a retailer cannot distinguish itself through high touch personalized human expertise (like Tiffany’s) they had better be able to engage customers directly via technology. Otherwise? They might as well pack up now.
Interested in deploying voice in your store? Want to ensure you have access to this important technology in the face of massive investments by Amazon? Reach out to Mycroft and we’ll connect you with a channel partner who can help deploy voice technology in your stores, in your call-centers, and in your customer’s homes.
Mycroft’s First Officer, a serial entrepreneur and Air Force Officer, Joshua brings more than 15 years of leadership experience to the Mycroft team. He is a strong supporter of the open ethos, net neutrality and consumer privacy. Joshua lives in Holualoa, Hawaii with his wife and co-founder Kris Adair.