Most retailers are comfortable enough with text-based searches to game the system in their favor when necessary. Featured or promoted results are just one way of leveraging the personalized data gained through monitored queries, and there's no doubt that as more consumers turn to mobile for their shopping needs optimizing these micro-moments will be a key skill of successful brands.
But thanks to the Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple's Siri, there's a whole new frontier of search data piling up every day - and it's this trove of potentially transformational data that could prove to be worth much more than a thousand words.
Just about every merchant worth its salt has been guiding its efforts with insights from customer data over the years, but Sridhar Narayanan, associate professor of marketing at Stanford, told the MIT Technology Review that data from a non-text-based input device has the potential to break a lot of glass ceilings in the race to read consumer data like behavioral tea leaves.
"A deeper profile of the customer is possible,” Narayanan said. “Already Google and these others have a lot of information about us. [Voice-enabled devices are] one new source that is different.”
Jeff Bezos himself has been something resembling forthright with the way the Amazon Echo will factor into the company's plans going forward. During an address at Recode's Code Conference, Bezos let it slip that more than 1,000 Amazon technicians are working on ways to enhance the Echo experience, and some of the improvements that have yet to see the light of day have been in the works for upwards of four years.
"There will be huge advances," Bezos said during the event. "Bigger companies like Amazon have an advantage because you need a lot of data to do extraordinary things."
Just like you have to spend money to make money, Amazon seems committed to generating data to get to the real good stuff.
It seems almost too naive to think that Amazon, Google, Apple and anybody else with the means to throw their hats into the voice-enabled commerce ring will willingly forgo the use of consumer data on this new frontier. However, while the prize may be worthwhile, the pains of getting there might not be — consumer opinion is still understandably unsettled on the issue of having an always-on listening device mining input for marketing insights.
It's certainly a potential roadblock to a new stream of retail marketing data, but as Patrick Gauthier, vice president of external payments at Amazon, told Mobile Payments Today, as long as developers can keep proving that these devices are worth it, consumers will gladly trade their marketable data for the privilege.
"When it comes to connected commerce, Amazon has one of the largest audiences and one of the most engaged audiences," Gauthier said. "If you shop online with any kind of regularity, you have an Amazon account. So, we have the opportunity to help retailers connect with those consumers. And again, we're doing it because consumers appreciate it, and it in the process, our engagement with them increases. I think we're already an active participant of, and you can call it, retail 3.0."
It's all well and good that Amazon has found a way to sell to consumers without having them pull out a phone or a laptop, but that's hardly the evolutionary shift that Gauthier and Bezos have hinted at recently. That can only come from the way the data from these new devices is used, and by most accounts, that future could be just a few Echo software updates away.