Voice Activation

The Future Is Still Unclear For Voice Shopping

Voice shopping is still a relatively new phenomenon, but it’s one that nearly 20 percent of consumers have used and another 33 percent plan to try this year, according to a Walker Sands survey published in July.

Amazon lets customers shop its virtual aisles with help from Alexa, and also powers ordering for certain third parties like Domino’s Pizza and Kayak hotel bookings. It has not integrated with any other retailers, though, but why would it need to? The eCommerce giant sells just about anything consumers could ever wish to order.

Meanwhile, Google introduced shopping to its Home smart speakers in February, and it integrated with more than 40 retailers out of the gate, including Target and Costco. Walmart has recently been added to the roster.

Despite all the media buzz about artificial intelligence (AI) and connected commerce reshaping the retail world, nearly half of retailers with an online presence are not yet using these tools — and moreover, many of them have no plans to start. That’s according to an eCommerce “Performance Indicators and Confidence Report” by SLI Systems, which, on a quarterly basis, surveys more than 200 mid-size retailers with a range of business models to gauge where eCommerce may be moving in the near future.

While more than half of respondents said they already used or planned to start using AI for personalized product recommendations in the next 12 months, less than half planned to use it for customer service requests, chatbots, visual search, virtual buying assistants, augmented and virtual reality or voice-activated apps. The percentage of online retailers who said they were already using AI for those purposes was in the single digits.

Of these categories, personalized product recommendations, customer service requests and chatbots were the most popular applications for AI. Virtual and augmented reality and voice-activated apps fared worst, with 90 percent of respondents saying they neither used nor planned to use these tools in the next 12 months.

And, when only approximately 20 percent of the consumer base owns or has used a voice-activated assistant for shopping, perhaps retailers’ reluctance to invest in these technologies is prudent. Why dump tons of money into making things a little easier for one-fifth of the population, when those budget dollars could be serving the 58 percent of consumers who have not tried — and don’t plan to try — voice shopping?

The numbers seem to indicate that all the hype about AI in retail may be just that: hype. But, SLI believes there’s another word for these middling adoption rates: opportunity.

After all, as the Walker Sands survey showed, one-third of consumers who have not tried voice shopping yet are willing to do so in the future. If they like it, then retailers who position themselves at the cutting edge of that technology are going to have a substantial advantage over those with no plans to implement AI at all.

SLI’s survey showed more than three-quarters of survey respondents understood how AI could be applied to eCommerce, but many did not understand how it applied to their specific business. Worse yet, a large chunk didn’t understand AI at all. That means seizing the opportunity will require further education of those who are being asked to adopt voice shopping technology and other AI strategies.

Of those who were ready to embrace AI, 60 percent said they planned to buy existing technology, while only 13 percent said they were confident enough to build their own. Twenty-seven percent said they expected to take a hybrid approach.

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