What We Talk About When We Talk About Voice (Commerce)

alexa echo

Speak. Listen. Shop. Get informed. Commerce – and so much else – will never be the same in a  world where the spoken word is making inroads. It’s the most natural of interactions, leading us beyond pressing thumbs to mobile devices when we search and purchase. Here’s a brief sampling of what PYMNTS has seen, and heard, and said (!) as Alexa and Siri have dominated the conversations about, well, voice.

Madonna. Cher. Ringo. Beyoncé.

Sometimes a first name is all you need. Instant identification. And likely an instant conversation follows right on the heels of that one-name utterance.

Outsized personalities, after all, get us thinking and chatting.

So here are two names that need no dropping, if you’ve been a reader of this space for the last several years. Alexa. Siri.

Let the conversation begin. The two disembodied assistants are, of course, synonymous with voice as a commercial force in everyday life, powering devices to do all manner of things, with a nod toward hands-free activities.

They’re all about futuristic (not all that far off!) interactions with everyday appliances in pursuit of food, information, lighting and transportation. Ah, but those are but two of the more recognizable names (voices?) amid a growing pantheon.

So in the links offered below, we present a thread of conversation of sorts – or of thoughts – that might help make sense of everything that utters and transacts, digitally, whether the transaction is tied to traditional payments or an exchange of information, whether the devices are large or small.

No mere chronology – some big themes are illuminated, some small revelations are, well, voiced. Think of these links as jumping-off points for your own conversations.

The voice-activated assistant that is Alexa now has a presence that spans washing machines and thermostats, to name just some examples, helping to regulate temperatures and help homeowners make the homestead run a little more smoothly.

But writ large, voice commerce brings a wealth of services and products beyond the traditional conduits of foot traffic in stores, picking up the phone or interacting with people face to face. The middleman/woman/it is the connected device, with its rapidly evolving ecosystem. And the ecosystem itself? It allows for commerce that might have been a bit more friction-filled before, and the consumer is king or queen.

Can That Voice (Assistant) Carry a Tune?

That is not to say that all assistants will come in first – or that all will be used for all manner of activities. A rising tide does not lift all boats. As we noted there, the song doesn’t always remain the same, and not everyone plays the same tune across the myriad use cases. Let’s start small and get a bit bigger.

Take music, for example. The HomePod made waves because it was, of course, an Apple product. But Apple is no magic imprimatur. Consider the fact that it has, as of this month, only 4 percent of the home speaker market. We presaged some challenges afoot last year.

Titans, Loud and Clear … and Mobile

So it is, then, that use cases win out – and amid developers, well, developing, the giants that are Google, Apple, Amazon and others would do well to remember that as much as 64 percent of the time, individuals start their searching inside of marketplaces. And more than 50 percent of consumers begin their queries inside of Amazon.

The data is from 2015, and still shows a sticky trend. Yet then again, the shift to mobile means that shopping on phones comes through just a few apps … which hints at the dominance of just a few marquee names. We go where we know, when we know what we want … or what we want to know.

Thus, among the marquee names, the star that now shines brightest is Alexa, she who helps herald and hasten the future of payments and commerce. The ecosystem goes beyond checking the weather or the stock markets, beyond the news … and right into the virtual shopping basket. No surprise, then, that we’ve been sponsoring the Alexa Payments Challenge, where teams vie to bring their ideas to life, and the consumers are the ones who benefit.

Ecosystems, Evolving and Contextual

Though Alexa has grabbed the public’s fancy, the long and winding road brings us to a future that will likely not be stamped with Google’s or Amazon’s creations. Ecosystems evolve to the point where personalization dominates. Think of the music industry, again, where context brings us beyond the confines of the devices. Our music tastes and playlists are not shaped by DJs spinning platters, but by any number of streaming services that move from car to tablet to phone to home speaker to … you name it. A recent interview with Katie McMahon, VP and GM of SoundHound, underscored the intuitive nature of interacting with speech, text, hardware, fluidly. That fluidity will translate into white-labelled technologies that will have their own identities and functions, said McMahon.

The only way for that frictionless, contextual experience to take shape is for VARs to start to anticipate what users want to buy, rather than just be reactive.

Patrick Gauthier told PYMNTS last year that voice assistants have the ability to make everyday lives easier, as the Amazon Pay GM and VP stated that AI and integration with payments boosts the consumer experience and merchants’ top lines. Thus, a successful ecosystem can form – and, as he stated, “there’s no limit to the type of conversations that humans can have.”

As PYMNTS has noted, the voice as interactive method has made inroads into any number of verticals, such as hospitality, and the skills lists have topped 25,000, per recent data tied to Alexa.

Voice as the ultimate disintermediary? Not so far-fetched, as Karen Webster wrote as 2017 drew to a close. Call it a case of putting your money where your mouth is – literally.

What say you?