Apple versus Amazon; Choose Wisely

There is a fork in the road ahead for many brands’ digital stores; one road involves Amazon and and the other Apple.

While brands’ use of voice search is still in its infancy, we need make clear a critical distinction which will inform your roadmap and set both your near and long term focus.

The concepts of “Amazon Alexa” and “on-site voice search” are either being confused or mistakenly combined. There is a big difference.

First, let’s look at the voice search functionality currently enabled on your own eCommerce site. A significant variable in the voice search equation already exists and it’s being used on your site right now (whether you like it or not). Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana are hard at work transcribing voice to text in your site search on shoppers’ mobile devices. As a matter of fact, Google reported that 20% of mobile searches in 2016 used voice search. Though Apple and Google are doing a lot of the heavy lifting – investing heavily in the ability to translate voice to text – your site is most likely delivering poor search results. There are a few reasons for this.

When consumers use voice services they tend to be much more expressive and search more conversationally. Instead of searching “brown shoes” they might say “Show me brown shoes under $100” or “Where is my closest store?”. In both cases, your site search has to support Natural Language Processing (NLP) in order to understand concepts like “under $100” and “closest store”. This also introduces the concept of including things other than products in search results – such as the store location and map results. This is Universal Search, the ability to include more than product data sets including mapping, brand content, videos, FAQs, etc. When consumers make these requests (which they are already doing on your sites), they are more than likely getting Null responses because it doesn’t understand the input. As consumers move more quickly to mobile and become more confident in its’ ability to accurately translate voice to text, this will become a very real and potentially costly challenge.

On the flip side, we have Amazon Alexa and Google Home. This approach is more challenging as brands don’t yet have a clear understanding of how best to create an engaging experience. One of the obvious but important differences is that these devices don’t have a screen to display results. They’re best used for informational queries (“What is the weather today?”), specific commands (“Play Bruce Springstein”) or basic eCommerce replenishment (“Order more dishwashing detergent”).

Also bare in mind that with Alexa you’re hanging out in Amazon’s playground. That means they have access to the data, they will want to route commerce through their ecosystem and for many people, this is justifiably a concern. In the case of Google Home it’s similarly challenging, minus the fact that they don’t have a massive eCommerce store, but they do love your data. And as a note, both these solutions will need an API to leverage. More than likely both solutions will also require some level of Universal Search for your content as well as NLP so you can respond intelligently.

When you consider both scenarios, the path for on site voice to text is much clearer. And because both have Universal and NLP as a baseline requirement, the on site voice enabled eCommerce site is a natural first step. Plus, your customers are already using voice to text on your site today and the results you provide will reflect on your brand. It’s time to get a plan together and take care of your customers with a successful voice search strategy.

Kurt Heinemann

Kurt is Reflektion’s CMO. His resume includes CMO positions at Marketwired and Monetate. He’s also held senior executive positions at Priceline, Time Warner and Walker Digital Companies. Despite living in Yankees territory, Kurt is a die hard Tigers fan.