Amazon Echo and Google Home, popular voice-activated speakers, are radically changing the way people shop. Today, all you need to do is just ask. Given the growing popularity of the voice-command devices, it’s evident that this is the future of retail and consumer product group (RCPG).

In the US, Walmart and Whole Foods are investing heavily in voice-activated shopping. In collaboration with Google, now customers can easily order from Walmart using their voice-enabled assistant, and add the required items to the virtual carts using voice control.

The appeal of these modern-day genies lies in their ease of use and accessibility. In addition to shopping, Amazon Echo and Google Home can be used to perform a range of functions, from playing music and reading mails to simply searching for information.

But it doesn’t stop here. For instance, a registered Kayak user can query, “Alexa, ask Kayak where I can travel within a $1,000-budget.” As a response, he’ll be given several suggested tour plans.

Similarly, one of Google Home’s smartest features is its ability to read out recipes and instructions as you cook. The device can access more than five million recipes from sources such as “The New York Times” and the Food Network.

Rising popularity of smart speakers

The market for the smart speakers is growing rapidly as interest in their functionalities pique. The sales of smartphones, an indicator of the reach of smart technologies, is expected to rise to a high of 2.1 billion units in 2021.

Clearly, there will be a shift among users toward voice activation while interacting with mobile devices. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that 20% of all searches are now triggered by voice. Additionally, voice-activated shopping, using smart speakers, is expected to take off in a big way with Gartner predicting that the value of the market for smart devices will shoot up to $3.52 billion in 2021, growing from $360 million in 2015.

Customers are not just shopping using their smart speakers. A report by Digital Commerce 360 states that 65% of owners of the devices use them to conduct research before making final purchases.

More importantly, the purchase of a smart speaker prompts a change in consumer behavior. In 2016 alone, the sales of Amazon Echo during the holidays increased nine-fold compared to the previous year. In an encouraging note for Amazon, Echo owners spent around 10% more in the six months following their purchase of the smart device.

New avenues of engagement

Around 80% of Amazon shoppers now know of its Echo offering, compared to the 47% who knew about the device a year ago. This growing awareness has made marketers sit up because the devices will bring about the following changes in the marketing landscape:

  • Brand recall: There is a need for brands to associate strongly with their product categories in a bid to improve recall value. This is because a customer could say, “Ok Google, I need pizza,” or “Alexa, I need beer,” without identifying any particular brand. Companies must invest to make themselves top of mind for buyers who are increasing in numbers due to the popularity of smart speakers. Businesses can also start pushing advertisements through smart speakers to widen their reach.Search optimization is necessary to develop brand recall so that users get relevant results. Device manufacturers could deploy suitable APIs to tap the real-time online conversations around products. This will enable the devices to suggest trends that the consumers could find useful. The use of APIs, of course, calls for the development of an engineering mind-set among device manufacturers. The adoption of an engineering approach would lead to the devices being embedded with cutting-edge technology that benefits users.
  • Competition among retailers: The competition to get to the top of Google Home search results when users are ordering using voice-activated speakers is going to benefit retailers. Those who do a good job in fulfilling orders are expected to climb to the top of the search results for particular categories.
  • Omnichannel finally taking off: Voice-activated shopping could be the missing link that helps omnichannel shopping take root. This may be the avenue to offer upgraded customer service. Companies often struggle to offer similar experiences across customer touch points. Voice-activated shopping could be the unifier the companies need to offer a complete, end-to-end customer experience.

However, shopping using voice-command speakers is still in its infancy. The shift to shopping using smart speakers, while gaining popularity, is unlikely to be adopted en masse in a short period of time.

Besides, voice-activated shopping is restricted to placing simple orders, such as for soaps and pet food. Consumers still want to see before buying big-ticket items, including clothes and decorative products.

The Digital Commerce 360 report says that 60% of the owners are dissatisfied with the results of their spoken queries, showing that there is still room for evolution of the voice-activated devices.

Latest entrants

The entry of new players in the market shows that more businesses are gearing up for the voice-activated shopping revolution. While Amazon was first on the scene with its Echo devices, Google jumped on the smart speaker bandwagon rather late in the game.

Apple is readying the launch of HomePod. The smart, voice-activated speaker is expected to start shipping by the end of the year. The company has claimed that the speaker is the “new sound of home.” On the other hand, Samsung — the Korean consumer electronics behemoth — is reported to be working on a voice-command device and plans to launch it “soon.”

There are also efforts to integrate the underlying technology to boost the functionality of common devices. LG Electronics recently showcased its Smart InstaView web-connected refrigerator, which uses Amazon’s Alexa technology to order groceries. What’s more, Ford has enabled its Sync 3 infotainment system to use Alexa’s in-car applications. Now, the owners of Ford’s vehicles will be able to ask for directions without reaching for their phones.

Shopping using voice-command speakers is still in its infancy.

Engineering smart speakers

Manufacturing organizations can incorporate new features in the smart devices, through embedded engineering, to drive customer satisfaction. Moreover, it enables the development of new products and provide discrete embedded systems for existing ones.

It’s, therefore, essential to train resources to cultivate an engineering approach. This will result in the development of innovative products and offerings that attract consumers, and shape a favorable brand image. An engineering mindset can help companies appreciate as well as leverage various platforms. Software engineering best practices promote competitiveness and assist in articulating optimized customer experience.

The online retailers need trusted engineering partners, who develop and upgrade products. It’s not necessary that engineering be the core competency of all sellers, the development and production of smart speakers can, therefore, be outsourced.

As manufacturers fine-tune their voice-command device offerings, more people will embrace this new-age technology. Historically, machines have helped reduce human effort. These smart machines, evidently, can not only achieve this, but also help revitalize the consumer products landscape.

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