Smart speakers, like Google Home or Amazon Echo, aren’t going away, which means either new opportunities or new headaches for ecommerce, depending on how excited you are for voice search.
According to a recent study by Voicebot.ai, 47.3 million Americans, or nearly one in five, now have access to a smart speaker. That’s a lot of people asking voice assistants for directions, recipes, jokes, music and, increasingly, to make purchases. Of those 47 million who own smart speakers, 57% have made a purchase using that speaker.
For brands who rely heavily on ecommerce, voice search is a game changer, and right now, it’s a race to the top of voice search results.
Consumers like voice shopping
Asking Alexa to stock shopping carts is more than just a novelty, it represents a sea change in the way consumers prefer to shop, according to Naji El-Arifi, head of Innovation for Salmon.
“Our own recent research showed 55% of shoppers said they like purchasing through voice-activated devices,” El-Arifi says.
And as more and more consumers become used to simply asking their smart speakers for purchase suggestions, the brands that get onboard early are the brands that get recommendations.
For example, last May, Virgin Trains launched a travel industry first with its move to sell train tickets through Alexa in the UK. Users can now simply ask Alexa not just for train times to cities like Edinburgh, but can also buy their tickets without ever opening their laptops or tapping their phones.
Voice shopping means more power for Amazon and Google
However, the move to sell products through voice search also means that early adopters get the sale, since Google and Amazon control which products are recommended. Users typically don’t specify what brand they’re looking for, so instead of asking Alexa for “Virgin Trains tickets,” they’ll simply ask for “train tickets.” That means Amazon will probably recommend products available via Prime, while Google could give preference to products optimized for its algorithms.
With that in mind, some brands are currently exploring partnerships with one or the other. For example, Argos, a UK catalogue retailer, recently announced its partnership with Google Assistant, making it easier for customers to purchase products from its physical catalogue via voice assistant. It’s worth nothing that Argos is owned by supermarket chain Sainsbury’s, which faces direct competition from Amazon Prime Pantry.
“For Argos, this represents another channel through which they hope to stave off strong competition from Amazon as its Amazon Echo device moves into more homes,” El-Arifi says.
Voice-first means being useful
Making the most of voice search is about much more than simply showing up. First and foremost, brands need to provide value, especially since consumers remain ambivalent about their speakers.
According to a recent study by ReportLinker, 31% of consumers list privacy concerns as the main drawback to owning a smart device. But at the same time, 90% of smart speaker owners wish their devices could do more, suggesting that the best way to stave off privacy concerns is to add value.
And for brands hoping to come up at the top of voice search results, the secret to providing that value is changing the ways in which they think about SEO. Unlike traditional SEO, which relies on keywords, voice search is more focused on answering questions. Consumers may type “Free returns hiking gear,” but they’re much more likely to formulate that same information as a question for voice search. Thinking carefully about what questions an ecommerce brand answers, not to mention creating a robust FAQ page, is good way to add value for users frustrated by the fact that their smart devices are listening without comprehending their questions.
Ready or not, change is coming
Right now, voice-first ecommerce is still in its infancy, and the brands testing the waters seem like novelties. However, by 2020, as much as 50% of our searches could be voice based, and the companies that prepare now will have a leg up in a space that’s sure to be crowded.
“As voice and gesture devices become more mainstream, and especially as brain-computer interfacing edges ever closer to reality, retailers and brands need to act early to make a play in the market; voice experiences takes time to develop, require plenty of AI training and trial-and-error before they can be fully functioning,” El-Arifi says.
Brands that fail to act now could soon find themselves scrambling to keep up.