Alexa everywhere: in the future, voice shopping will be ubiquitous
What does “everywhere” mean? Well, voice assistants like Alexa will be situated (to borrow a phrase from Coca-Cola’s playbook) “within a voice command of desire.” Naturally that means within your mobile phone, but voice assistants will also soon be popping up all over the place.
Starting in the kitchen or laundry, appliances are beginning to have voice assistants built in.Consumers will soon be able to instruct the washer to “order more Tide,” or the fridge to “re-stock the milk.” Jump into your Ford and you can already ask Alexa to start your Starbucks order, so you can swing by the drive-thru, pick up and go. Get to the office and through Alexa for Business, you can not only use Alexa to notify IT that the printer is down, but to order office supplies, too.
Hit the road and you’ll find Alexa coming to Marriott hotels. Besides voice-controlling the lights, blinds and entertainment, room service will suddenly get much easier: “Alexa, order me a burger.” (In China, Marriott is partnering with Alibaba with the same goals in mind – reduce stress on staff, plus make life easier, and more fun, for guests.) If you don’t want to eat in-house, the restaurant you go to might feature Alexa on the table to answer menu questions or tell you when you can expect your meal. (Don’t want to eat in, how about an Alexa enabled fast-food drive-thru?)
In-store, Alexa Shop Assistant could help you navigate the store, and when you get to the shelf you want, answer product questions. The idea – right now just a concept – could well have its uses in a big-box environment where it’s often difficult to track down live help. (Alibaba has already piloted a voice assistant as a “shopping guide” – opening an unstaffed store in Beijing where its Alexa-equivalent – Tmall Genie – acted as a sales associate to sell robots.) Back at home, if you have questions about your purchase, Alexa could also be your customer service operator.
You get the picture. Don’t think omnichannel – think omnipresent.
In order for this to work though, the voice shopping user experience will have to be substantially better than it is today – particularly for Alexa, who is not quite as smart as her rivals. In order to fulfill this dream, Amazon is becoming its own AI chip maker. With more processing done on the device, rather than in the cloud, responses will be faster. Alexa’s IQ and EQ are getting better all the time, too. The Alexa Brain initiative has already resulted in Alexa having more of a memory and conversations becoming more natural. Critically for voice shopping, more smart speakers are being fitted with smart displays, which simply means you can see what you are buying.
We also have to remember that it is very early days for voice commerce. The first popular voice assistant – Siri – was only introduced in 2010. Alexa came along four years later, in late 2014, and Google Assistant followed in May 2016. So, this is a phenomenon of the second decade of the 21st century. Remember how long it took shoppers to become comfortable with online retail, which was born way back in 1994?
Voice shopping will gain traction over time, and in fact, some pundits are tipping it will hit over $40 billion in sales across the U.S. and U.K. by 2022 (which would be small but substantial by comparison with current total retail and online sales in the U.S.).
If we start to see voice assistants infiltrate in-store and customer service, as well as straight voice shopping, it might also be useful to think about Alexa-Influenced Retail – AIR. One way or another, voice commerce will truly be in the ether.