One of the big technology trends over the past few years has been the introduction of human/machine voice interfaces in the home. Devices such as Google Home, Amazon Alexa and now Apple’s HomePod, have leapt from the pages of science fiction to provide people with a new means of accessing online services; such as traffic and weather updates and entertainment packages. But this is just the beginning: voice-controlled devices are starting to bring new levels of convenience to the shopping experience and over time may well prove one of the most disruptive retail innovations to date.
What’s really exciting is that UK shoppers are already starting to embrace voice interfaces as a way to shop. We recently spoke to almost 3,000 people in the UK about their shopping experiences and we asked them about their use of voice-controlled devices to shop online. While the technology is still in the ‘early adopter’ phase (only 2% of the people we spoke to are currently using voice-controlled devices for shopping) it’s set to grow by 200% in 2018 alone. The UK therefore appears to be at a tipping point towards a new shopping revolution where we’ll increasingly buy or instigate the return of goods and services, using nothing more than our voices.
If the experience of the past few years has taught us anything it’s that when a truly disruptive technology emerges, it’s important to get onboard as quickly as possible. Retailers and brands currently have a fast-closing window in which to test voice use cases and get them to market ahead of competitors. One area particularly ripe for differentiation is the post-purchase experience. Most retailers and brands today focus almost exclusively on the customer acquisition side of the retail experience; and as a result, existing voice services tend to stop at the point of purchase. We believe this is shortsighted. In the future, brands will be able to differentiate by offering consumers a holistic voice experience that goes beyond the point of sale. In a short space of time from now, for example, you can imagine shoppers asking their voice-controlled shopping assistant for an update on a delivery date. Similarly, the returns process will be completed through the voice interface without the need for the consumer to physically go online. The item being returned would then, perhaps, be picked up by an autonomous vehicle; or the shopper could return it to dedicated automated returns kiosks in-store.
The post-purchase use cases for voice are as numerous as they are compelling; spanning orders, delivery updates, returns, service and care. Our advice to brands and retailers is to start mapping a path to this future by taking control of existing online post-purchase experiences and enriching them with AI applications such as chatbots. This will allow them to see how future voice-controlled capabilities might work in practice while helping create a compelling post-purchase brand voice. The post-purchase experience has been neglected by brands for too long, but the advent of advanced voice and other AI capabilities means that now is the time to deliver truly exceptional customer experiences end-to-end.
Chris Hoskin is Narvar’s Regional Director of Marketing in EMEA. He has been working in the ecommerce sector for over 15 years and has experience spanning omnichannel integration, design, and supply chain & logistics.