If a customer wants some red Nike running shoes in size 11, he can use his web browser or phone to navigate to Nike’s website, find the shoes, choose the color and select a size — or he can just say, “Alexa (or Google, or Siri), I want some red Nike running shoes in size 11.”
It’s clear that the natural language approach is a much faster way to get the desired result, and consumers are figuring that out: Alpine.AI CEO and Co-Founder Adam Marchick said the company’s analytics have been showing an increase in product-related queries in natural language like this across SEO and SEM search terms. Many of these queries were being made with purchase intent, he said.
Consumers are being trained to use their voices to search, said Marchick, and that’s why Alpine.AI (formerly known as VoiceLabs) — which didn’t start out as a voice commerce company — decided to shift its focus in that direction.
“Voice commerce is a bright light in the distance,” Marchick said. “It’s still a year or two away from becoming mainstream, but a path to purchase where consumers are using smart assistants to make commerce decisions is here.”
After dedicating some time to providing analytics services, Alpine.AI recently launched its new artificial intelligence (AI) product out of stealth. Marchick explained that Alpine.AI builds voice shopping apps for retailers — automatically — by importing their catalog. Then, it layers AI tech on top of it to answer customers’ voice queries and help convert those queries to purchases.
That way, the customer who wants those size 11 red Nike running shoes can pull the payments trigger while he’s feeling so inclined — often, said Marchick, after seeing those same shoes in a TV ad or even on a player’s feet while watching a basketball game.
The State of Voice
Right now, said Marchick, if a consumer tries to ask about those Nikes, he’ll get a canned response, because even the top retailers and brands have yet to establish a firm presence in the voice ecosystem. But that will change with time.
One day, the customer will be able to ask for qualitative information on the shoes, as well — not just “Do they come in red?” but “Are these shoes good for 11-year-olds?” and other subjective information that, historically, could only be gleaned by manually reading reviews from other customers.
Marchick said it likely won’t take long for major players like Nike to establish that presence. Soon the assistant will know to recommend the Nike app when consumers indicate they are ready to embark on a purchase journey with that brand.
That’s what Alpine.AI wants to help brands achieve, Marchick said, and the tech is now in place with Alpine.
Voice commerce can only go mainstream once developers and brands master the purchase funnel to guide shoppers on a journey that feels intuitive and natural, he said. If it is clunky and ineffective, then voice as a tool for commerce will flop — or, at least, it will not grow far beyond what it is today.
A Piece of the Commerce Pie
But voice alone won’t be enough. The path to purchase may begin with voice, said Marchick, but odds are that it will proceed to other channels before the customer is ready to make a purchase decision.
For instance, if the customer thinks those Nikes look great on TV, he can ask Alexa, Siri or Google to help him find a pair. The natural language command narrows down the field of possible matches, leaving the customer with just a small handful of options from which to make his final choice.
From there, voice is no longer the most optimal way for the customer to continue the conversation. He reached the shortlist with a minimum amount of effort and complexity. Now he’s going to want a visual before committing his dollars. That can be delivered via the brand’s app or by emailing those top three results to his inbox for final review.
Thus, said Marchick, the key to voice commerce won’t simply be developing great voice recognition tech, although that’s obviously a fundamental component. Rather, the key will be making voice work with and for other channels.
If brands and developers can succeed at that, Marchick believes that search volume will increase — but only if the solutions are effective. He compared it to mobile, which increased overall search volumes because users no longer had to save their questions until they sat down at a desktop computer.
“We’re in the consideration and intent phases,” Marchick said. “Voice will be involved there this year. Just like in mobile, we will evolve to the decision and purchase phases.”
“We will traverse the whole path to purchase in the next three to five years,” Marchick said.