If you google voice commerce, you’ll get 202,000,000 results. Clearly this is a topic of enormous interest and study. The definition of voice commerce, however, is more debatable. Right now, experts, articles, and industry insiders assume that voice commerce and smart speakers are inextricably linked. The issue with this association is that smart speakers inhibit usability and sideline customer experience – all hindering growth in voice commerce.
Current eCommerce and Voice Commerce Markets
A study on eCommerce found that “in 2017, eCommerce sales accounted for 9% of all retail sales in the US; this figure is expected to reach 12.4% in 2020.” In addition, the recent US Census on quarterly retail E-commerce sales highlights dramatic growth in the industry:
Estimated Quarterly U.S. Retail E-commerce Sales as a Percent of Total Quarterly Retail Sales: 1st Quarter 2010 – 3rd Quarter 2019
In a SUMO Heavy Voice Commerce Survey, only “17% of respondents say they have browsed or shopped products using a voice-activated assistant; the majority have not.” This statistic may be attributed to a relatively new voice market, but it also may have to do with the gap between smart speakers and a natural shopping experience. In addition, while experts point to vast improvements in ASR (automatic speech recognition) and NLU (natural language understanding), these leaps and bounds aren’t enough to transform customer experience when it comes to online shopping.
Why is voice shopping so underwhelming?
A recent article in Wired explores why the voice shopping experience leaves so much to be desired. "A bunch of companies built Alexa skills and I just wonder, 'Why?'" says Sucharita Kodali, the retail expert at Forrester. "Voice commerce is completely overrated. It doesn’t make sense for most purchases except for a quick replenishment purchase of something you recently purchased from Amazon and your payment and shipping information is stored."
While this statement is true if voice is used only within the context of smart speakers, it fails to consider the use of voice in addition to all the other online shopping tools we use today.
Why does voice need to be redefined?
Voice is just one of the channels in the complex ecosystem of online shopping, not an isolated technology. In order to be successful, voice must be accompanied by images, text options, context, and easy handoff to
a human. Voice isn’t a silver bullet, but rather an effective way for customers to answer their own questions. Voice enables retailers to:
- Reduce customer calls to care centers
- Enhance the shopping experience
- Allow easy filtering and searching
Retailers and customers alike need to stop limiting their idea of voice shopping to smart speakers. Once seen as the future of voice, smart speakers will take a secondary role as retailers move to native solutions on their sites. When it comes to voice commerce, smart speakers will be replaced by the ubiquitous mobile phone, giving brands the opportunity to redefine voice shopping and customer experience.