OP-Ed: Is Voice Technology the Future of Retail?

Will the voice-operated assistant change the way we shop?

 

The first time I came across Amazon’s Alexa, I was amazed by the fact that a voice-operated assistant could work so well. Having Siri on my iPhone, I had never really made use of the voice-operated system integrated inside my phone, as it would often fail to correctly execute my instructions unless plainly stated. Although I had always been somewhat intrigued by this advancement in technology, I had always tried to distance myself from it, preferring to research things and deal with things by myself.

 

Yet it seems that, since the advent of Alexa and OK Google, an astonishing amount of people have started buying into these voice-operated systems, as extra assistance to their homes. According to Amazon, over the Black Friday shopping weekend, its Echo Dot home voice assistant was the best-selling item across its entire product catalogue.

 

Looking for someone to adjust your lighting or open your garage door? A simple yell to either Alexa or Google will do. But what about shopping online? What if Google or Alexa could help you buy groceries without having to drive by the supermarket or help you stock products you keep forgetting about?

 

Would that be possible? Apparently so, the possibility of using voice-technology in partnership with retail is growing and is planned to grow in the coming years. Although, for now, according to a study by Adobe Analytics, only about a quarter of US smart speaker owners have been purchasing something with their voice, the numbers have been said to be in continuous growth.

 

“Technology trends come and go, but we think voice is here to stay,” said Colin Morris, director of product management for Adobe Analytics, in a report for CMO. “Consumers continue to embrace voice as a means to engage their devices and the Internet. It’s a trend that has fundamentally changed the face of computing.”

 

Although voice technology in relation to retail seems to target items which would be easy to buy in bulk, it is increasingly starting to seem like the future of retail will be imbued with technology for a friction-free, personalized and connected shopping experience.

 

Nevertheless, the big question to ask is, how will brands make sure they stay ahead of their game? How will they integrate voice technology and push consumers to buy their products through the use of this possibly revolutionary device, especially at a time where shopping in-store seems like a faraway dream?

 

It’s a hard question. For now, it’s really hard to imagine shopping for a sofa or a dress just by yelling at Alexa or Google to buy the product, without even having to look at it. Most products and most retailers, online and non, still play on visual impact and powerful aesthetics, especially when advertising on social. 

 

Also, most often and most of the time, unless you know your measurements really well and your size, even shopping online can be hard.

However, it is important that the retail industry stays aware of the fact that artificial-intelligence powered assistants may have a very different role in our lives in the future. Who knows what’ll be, but better not stay on the sidelines until then.

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