Why Voice Commerce Will Soon Go Mainstream
“Voice commerce is the technology of the day.”
That’s how Laura Heller put it in her recap of Shop.org’s conference last week.
And she’s right.
Voice-enabled search doesn’t generate the same “wow” factor as stories about drones delivering packages to your door, but that’s only because many of us have already tried it.
In fact, 98% of iPhone users have experimented with Siri.
So while there’s not yet widespread adoption, searching by voice is something we intuitively understand; it’s something that feels close to us. And in the mobile sense, it’s something that is close to us.
Voice commerce—in using the capabilities of an intelligent voice-based search to power an intuitive shopping experience—will over the years move from being a customer delight used primarily by elite brands to a customer expectation used by all brands that want to thrive in a digital landscape.
The groundwork is in place for voice commerce to go mainstream, and digital retailers should begin preparing now to ride the inevitable wave.
When voice-activated search took off
For various types of voice-based search, 2015 was the breakout year. This was when, according to the Local Search Association, searches powered by voice went from a statistical zero to roughly 10% of overall global search volume.
For perspective, that meant 50 billion voice-powered searches each month.
It’s no surprise, then, that Mary Meeker’s 2016 Internet Trends report highlighted the build up to this dramatic rise:
Meeker’s 2017 report again featured search by voice—highlighting how trends are pointing towards both it and photo search increasingly replacing typing.
The reality of today’s voice search
However, there are voices out there, such as Forrester’s Collin Colburn, who are rightly tempering the excitement around conducting searches by voice.
In his piece titled, Voice Search Will Eventually Revolutionize Search Marketing, Colburn opens with a bang:
“Let’s face it: voice search is incredibly over-hyped today.”
Just as Heller was right, so too is Colburn.
For starters, voice search hasn’t yet reached that critical mass of true adoption. For example, I’m someone who loves to tinker with chatbots and yet I personally don’t use mobile voice search. Those I know who do are typically asking questions such as:
“What time is the Steelers game tonight?”
“Where is the closest flower shop?”
In other words, they are using voice to either receive a direct answer (and often altogether bypassing having to sift through Google search results) or to conduct local place-based searches.
In this sense, voice searching has been adopted for the reasons Meeker suggests: it provides a far better mobile experience than manually typing and searching.
It should come as no surprise then that mobile-first India leads the way in terms of searches about “voice search” over the last 5 years:
Mobile trends in India can serve as a drumbeat for what’s to come. As Umang Bedi, Facebook’s Managing Director for India and South Asia, told me:
“Mobile is the future of India.”
So where does voice commerce fit in?
Up until recently, most of the social and event chatter around voice searching has focused on either Siri-esque examples or on the role of voice search and SEO.
Check out the top 5 rising search trends around topics related to voice search:
These trends will continue, but voice search’s natural maturation will be showcased in voice commerce.
Just as Google dominates the conversation around SEO-based voice search, Amazon (with products such as Alexa) is of course owning the conversation around voice commerce.
But as Joe Stanhope pointed out yesterday in his webinar titled, Assessing The Real Potential Of AI For Marketing, entitled and connected customers are expecting all brands (not just Amazon) to be “omniscient.”
If your customers are searching any other outlets by voice, you better believe they are (or soon will) expect their favorite retailers to offer a similar experience.
The future of voice commerce
Those in the digital merchandising space must, as Stanhope said, “be able to win in customer moments.”
Stanhope was referring here to the moments of the customer journey—every interaction a customer has with your site.
This means a voice commerce solution must (at least) be capable of:
1. Recognizing the individual and predicting customer intent based on their previous interactions;
2. Using Natural Language Processing to deliver highly-relevant results;
3. Understanding data beyond product results (such as shipping information).
Voice commerce, therefore, must go far beyond today’s casual use of asking Siri where the closest flower shop is and into efficiently using a voice-based search to quickly and easily find the most relevant content in the endless digital aisle of your favorite brand’s site.
In the next 3-5 years, voice commerce will move into the mainstream. Those brands that adopt it early and successfully will have three critical advantages:
1. They’ll be setting the bar rather than being held to one;
2. They’ll be collecting data that will help them continuously optimize the customer experience;
3. They’ll capture mindshare as customers form habits around voice-enabled searching.