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Updated: May 11, 2019

Credit CBInsights

It’s top of mind because Walmart recently introduced voice ordering for its online grocery service through Google Assistant. The retail behemoth now lets shoppers add products to their list by talking to their Google Home, smartphones, or smartwatches. 

Does this mean that voice shopping is really moving mainstream? Or is it still over-hyped?

The idea of voice shopping – or placing orders online by talking to our devices – has captured a lot of headlines.

This happened back when Echo and Google Home devices took off, and primitive voice shopping capabilities appeared.

Lately, the excitement seems to be fading.  

This cycle is classic. 

Initial hype around a new technology fades as we don’t see an overnight transformation in our behavior.

While the industry might have gotten ahead of itself about the near-term impact of voice shopping (how many people do you know who shop by voice?), I warn you, do not discount its long-term significance. 

Let’s start by putting voice interactions in context.

Already by May 2016, before the Google Home was released, Google reported that 20% of all searches on its platform were from voice.

Since then, consumers have proven eager to buy smart speakers, with US households now owning roughly 118.5 million devices, according to a recent Smart Audio Report.  

As these devices take off and interactions improve, voice shopping is showing signs of growth. For example, Amazon saw Alexa voice shopping triple over the 2018 holidays, versus the year earlier. 

Looking ahead, there are three reasons why voice shopping will matter a lot:

1) New devices and new integrations for new shopping occasions

Amazon’s Echo Auto is designed for a car, and carmakers such as BMW and Ford are building Alexa voice integrations directly. Both options let drivers talk with their assistants at the wheel. Voice assistants are making their way beyond our kitchens and living rooms. Hotels are also jumping on board. Select Marriott hotels now include Amazon’s Alexa, which lets guests order room service by talking to their room.

Why does this matter?

New spaces allow new use cases, such as connecting to drive-thrus, pre-ordering services, or requesting flight upgrades from hotel rooms.

Those who map their products’ connection to adjacent experiences and services will be well positioned to capitalize on a wider set of demand triggers. 

2) Engaging the elderly

Small screens and keyboards are not particularly easy to use, especially if your vision or dexterity is fading.

Conversations through voice assistants may rise as a welcome interaction. It may even turn out to be the least burdensome way to do routine chores like grocery shopping.   

Why does this matter?

Boomers are already adept at shopping online, and the oldest are turning 73 this year.

As mobility concerns continue to rise, more will look to their devices and online services to help with everyday tasks.

Watch for targeted voice services designed to fill this need to appear. 

3) Conversations will start to offer suggestions

The transaction is only one piece of a shopping occasion. Perhaps more important for voice is its role in the surrounding experience, such as answering questions (read: identifying needs) and making shopping lists.

Voice assistants will get better at conversations as artificial intelligence improves. (For example, at Google’s I/O 2018 conference, the company showed its Duplex voice assistant, which booked a haircut). Alongside this, creative ways to tie-in service and recommendations will rise to better address our needs. 

Why does this matter?

As voice platforms get smarter, they’ll be involved in more conversations, including ones to identify needs before we realize them and offer solutions. In this way, voice looks destined to be an important tool for predictive marketing.

Learning when and how to engage consumers in this context will be key to identifying where to make suggestions and hone product recommendations. 

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