Digital Assistants and the Rise of Voice Search: What Brands and Retailers Need to Do

September 26, 2017

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This is the final installment of a blog series that explores the current state of digital assistants and their impact on the e-commerce industry.

Now that you have gained a greater understanding of voice search and digital assistants from our previous posts, let’s wrap things up with some tangible recommendations. As we have outlined, these technologies and platforms are still very much in the early stages of development. However, there are plenty of things that marketers can do today.

  1. Become a User: Purchase one or more of these devices and start using it immediately in your home or office. It is difficult to grasp the possibilities without using one of these devices (imagine talking about whether your brand needed a mobile app back in 2008 if you had never used a smartphone). With the entry point as low as $49 for an Echo Dot, you really have no excuse (go ahead and do it now — we’ll wait). Additionally, download the Google Assistant app and use on your phone to get a feel for how voice works there.
  2. Dedicate Some R&D Cycles: Think about what skills your company could build and invest some engineering resources here. Don’t make the mistake many retailers made in the early days of mobile, which was a blind rush toward building an app that basically replicated the entire website. Questions about why an app should be built were answered with: “Everyone else is building one!”  Instead, think about the products you sell and some potential logical and innovative intersections of voice search. Unlike apps, skills are relatively lightweight to build — check out ChannelAdvisor’s skill for an easy way to skim our latest blogs!
  3. Experiment with Use Cases: At this stage in the technology, a clear use case hasn’t yet emerged, so we recommend trying a number of small, narrowly focused experiments to evaluate what catches on. Search for other retailers and see what others are experimenting with. Expect that most of these tests won’t amount to much, but they are useful in getting familiar with skill/app development and the technology’s possibilities. Such a possibility could be as narrow as a skill that tells the user the status of their order. Other ideas include building around promotions or deals of the day.
  4. Focus on Shopping Lists: A key area of focus for grocery retailers is to evaluate a shopping list skill that integrates with your website for easy reordering. The shopping list is a gold mine of shopper intent and represents a clear opportunity (and threat) for grocery retailers.
  5. Evaluate Data Structure: Think about how your data is structured and how voice search could interact with your products. Try this exercise: Open your website on a browser on your computer. Have someone else sit at your desk and control the computer’s mouse while you give voice commands to complete a basic task on your website. Remember that you can’t use directional words as a part of your instructions (“click there” or “click on the one on the right.”). You will likely get frustrated pretty quickly. What becomes apparent through this exercise is that many product attributes that are useful for voice commands typically don’t exist in your current structure, as today’s web platforms are not designed for access via voice. Voice search is actually very similar to how you would interact with a knowledgeable sales associate in a store. He or she would have visual knowledge of the products and be able to produce a good match.
  6. Sell on Google Express: With Google one of the primary device manufacturers in this space, combined with their continued development of Google Express as a shopping destination, the Google search page is a logical starting point for a retailer looking to participate. With Walmart’s announcement of its intention to integrate with Google Home, we would expect increasing interest here in tapping into voice through Google Assistant and Home. In fact. Home Depot has also announced its plans to integrate into Home.
  7. Sell on Amazon: Amazon has an enormous head start at this point in terms of usage and skill development and of course, can tightly integrate Alexa to shopping (after all that is sort of the point). If you aren’t already selling on Amazon, it might be the time to change that. Additionally, existing sellers or vendors should double-check that their data is robust and complete. Alexa is smart but can’t make up for gaps in your data when it comes to retrieving search results.
  8. Anticipate a New Advertising Offering: While ad opportunities are not yet tied to voice queries in the same way they are for search queries, we believe that will change. Clearly, Google excels at putting a relevant ad in front of a user query and we expect them to do the same with voice. Amazon has similar strengths and we also expect such opportunities from them in the future.
  9. Include as Part of Personalization Efforts: Retailers are investing heavily in a more personalized shopping experience — with good reason. Today that involves showing certain offers, products and promotions to users based on their past purchases and interests. Voice will become the ultimate in personalization as the voice engines get better at distinguishing individual users. Think about how voice can be integrated into your current personalization strategy — and consider adjusting your existing strategy if it can’t be.

As we’ve previously mentioned, we are still in the early days of this technology and consumer adaptation of it. Those brands and retailers that are early adopters certainly aren’t guaranteed success but they do have a leg up on those who are still working to catch the last wave.

As this space continues to evolve, stay tuned to our blog. We keep a close eye on all emerging technologies in e-commerce and will continue reporting on significant developments in voice search and digital assistants.