In just a few short years, artificial intelligence (AI) has emerged from the stuff of science fiction into a technology widely embraced across industries from healthcare to manufacturing. Given how well Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo and Dot and other voice-activated assistants such as Google Home are selling, consumers have demonstrated their eagerness to adopt new and novel ways of shopping and interacting with brands and retailers.
AR and VR Paved the Way
Future-forward technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have been making inroads with consumers for some time now, offering exciting, immersive experiences that often blend the physical and digital worlds. Brands such as TOMS, The North Face and Lowe’s got people comfortable donning headsets to experience altered worlds.
First Came Chatbots
Then, AI spawned chatbots, among the most common examples of artificial intelligence and now a staple in how many brands and retailers engage with customers. Chatbots can be designed to mimic human conversation and answer many of the most common questions shoppers may have: where’s my order? What’s the return policy?
If you make an eCommerce purchase, you may now automatically receive notifications through the brand’s Facebook chatbot, for example, which updates you as the order makes it way from the warehouse to your walkway – reducing the need for customers to phone a call center or shoot off an email and wait for a reply. AI-powered chatbots offer better customer service and a more satisfying experience. And they’ve advanced to help shoppers find and buy products from a range of retail brands.
Companies have taken these capabilities and added voice interaction, expanding the range of tasks an AI assistant can handle. In short: the early days of voice-activated shopping are here.
Chatbots + Voice = Holy Grail?
Voice-activated shopping is the next natural step in this new wave of tech-powered retail journeys and consumers are very interested in adopting new technologies. To paint the picture: prior to Prime Day 2017 in July, an estimated 10 million Echo devices had been sold, a number which increased significantly due to steep discounts on the devices during the Amazon shopping holiday. Voice-activated devices have transitioned from simply assistants to shopping enablers.
Despite the encouraging progress, companies invested in voice-activated shopping platforms must work out a few kinks in the system. The microphones on voice-activated assistants may be sharp enough to hear you from the next room but so far they can’t quite distinguish between a parent’s voice and a child — which in one instance let to the accidental order of dollhouses across San Diego.
Restaurants, eager to engage fickle consumers, have jumped on the voice-activated chatbot bandwagon. In Q2, Orderscape.com launched its Foodiebot— integrated with Alexa, Facebook Messenger and others — with more than 6,000 eateries nationwide offering customer-branded skills.
Retailers are following closely behind. The advantages to implementing chatbots that could provide voice-activated shopping are numerous. When executed well, chatbots can provide customer service on par with that of a traditional retail associate, resolve queries quickly and reduce the incidence of customers leaving your website for a competitor’s.
The Future Is Now
Voice-activated shopping assistants such as Alexa are going mainstream and in the not-to-distant future retailers of all stripes and sizes may soon be handling orders that involved just the customer’s voice command. While many retail business are busy managing technology priorities such as omnichannel, order management and other staples, don’t overlook seemingly “futuristic” tech like voice-activated shopping assistants, which soon could be just a regular part of retail.