February 23, 2024

Have you ever refilled your home pantry or ordered a movie with Amazon’s Alexa? Ever wondered if your business could support this mode for customer service—or how this technology even works in the first place?

Voice commerce, the name for this process, is a sales transaction in which a consumer speaks directly with a retail website using a voice assistant. It allows the consumer to gather information and place or modify an order without having to use a screen or keyboard.

Read on to learn more about the current state of voice commerce and the role this exciting new technology might play in your business, as well as in the overall retail industry.

What is voice commerce?

Voice commerce is a keyboard- and screen-free way for a customer or potential customer to communicate via spoken word with a computer.It requires a smart speaker that converts the customer’s words into electronic commands, and an artificial intelligence-driven voice assistant that interprets what the consumer says and translates it into action.

In the case of voice commerce, an online purchase or modification to an order. Among the best-known voice assistants are Alexa (Amazon), Google Assistant (Google), Siri (Apple), and Cortana (Microsoft)—but in this rapidly changing field, new leaders could emerge at any time.

Today, voice commerce serves as a relatively new and ever-evolving component of ecommerce. It represents a very small part of overall ecommerce volume (a projected 0.2% in 2023), but is expected to grow rapidly over the next few years.

How does voice commerce work?

To get a sense of how voice commerce works in action, let’s do some shopping. Imagine yourself in the role of a customer using an Amazon smart speaker and Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant to solve a problem: You’re leaving for a trip next week, and you need a new power bank for your phone before you leave.

Customer: Alexa, tell ABC Store to order a power bank for charging my phone.

Alexa: Sure. What brand and capacity would you like?

Customer: Order a Samsung 10,000 mAh power bank.

Alexa: Great. What color would you like?

Customer: What are my options?

Alexa: Silver, white, and black.

Customer: I’ll take silver.

Alexa: That will be $10.99. Would you like to order it?

Customer: Yes, I would.

Alexa: Thanks for placing your order. It will be delivered to your address within three business days.

Now imagine that this whole conversation took place from the comfort of your home while getting your pre-trip checklist done—and you didn’t have to open your phone or computer to complete the transaction. That is voice commerce in action.

Benefits of voice commerce

In addition to the convenience of voice commerce transactions, the technology offers other benefits, including:

  • Reducing the amount of time between a customer deciding to buy and clicking Buy. A quick sale completion, as illustrated in the example above, can help reduce abandoned shopping carts.
  • Increasing customer satisfaction. Eighty percent of surveyed customers say they prefer a personalized shopping experience like one provided by voice commerce, which can make recommendations.
  • Matching customers with the right products. Rather than simply telling a customer something is out of stock, the voice commerce assistant can suggest alternatives, increasing the likelihood of a sale.
  • Providing additional customer info. A deeper understanding of customers such as when customers purchase items or where they are when they shop can open up co-marketing, service, and upsell opportunities.

Voice commerce challenges

While there are many undeniable advantages to integrating voice commerce into your business, the technology also has some important drawbacks to consider:

  • It requires technology adoption. Voice commerce relies on the customer’s willingness to purchase and use new technology successfully, which could make it difficult to reach your target audience.
  • It causes a lack of trust with your customers. They may have price-related or security concerns about the technology.
  • Has limited network integration. While mobile platforms like Venmo and PayPal already allow customers to carry out financial functions through voice command, traditional banks have been slower to enable voice commerce, which could limit your customer base.
  • It risks possible vendor instability. Artificial intelligence is a still speculative and rapidly changing industry. As of November 2022, for example, Amazon’s Alexa—the market leader in terms of voice commerce installations—was on track to lose $10 billion for the year, and Amazon announced plans to lay off 10,000 people, including those in the department that handles Alexa. Ongoing instability could make voice commerce a less reliable option for businesses as a result.

Voice commerce: advice for retailers

Voice commerce is still new to the retail industry. However, retailers using the technology and tech vendors both offer some suggestions for businesses thinking about adopting the technology.

  • Use conversational keywords. When assigning keywords to your products, keep in mind the way people actually talk. Unlike text searches, which can be very short, voice queries often run six to 10 words in length. “Hey Siri, what’s the best desk lamp available at ABC Store?” is a more likely voice search than “desk lamp.”
  • Improve product content. If your content is too wordy, the voice assistant will compress it, possibly at the cost of clarity. Content that isn’t well organized could create a poor shopping experience for your customers.
  • Focus on repeat orders. Once customer data is established in the system, voice commerce enables very rapid repeat orders, especially of consumables. Offering discounts for repeat voice commerce orders could incentivize this even further.

What is the future of voice commerce?

In 2021, shopping via voice commerce in the US totaled approximately $5 billion—and recent statistics project a nearly fourfold increase for 2023, to $19.4 billion. Moreover, shoppers are aware of it: 72% of queried consumers say they have used voice search with assistants like Siri, Alexa, or Cortana, making voice commerce a logical extension of that habit.

On the other hand, total US voice commerce for 2023 represents only a minute fraction—two-tenths of one percent—of the US ecommerce total, projected for 2023 at $1.01 trillion. And, as noted above, the technology supply side of voice commerce is somewhat unstable, due both to individual company issues and to uncertainties in the rapidly changing chatbot industry.

No matter the uncertainty, customer satisfaction for voice commerce is high: 80% of consumers who have made purchases with voice assistants report themselves satisfied with the experience. Given these figures, and the rapid strides that are being made with artificial intelligence in 2023, voice commerce seems poised to become an increasingly important component of commerce.Retailers need to pay attention to voice commerce, as its role in your customer relations and online sales strategies will undoubtedly grow.

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Voice commerce FAQ

What is voice commerce in retail?

Voice commerce in retail is a technology that enables an online consumer to communicate with a retailer by speaking rather than by using a screen and a keyboard.

How do you participate in voice commerce?

Necessary components of voice commerce include a smart speaker, a drive that connects to the consumer’s Wi-Fi network, and a voice assistant that can respond to speaker comments or questions and perform tasks electronically.

What is voice shopping?

Voice shopping consists of researching and ordering from a retailer’s website through a voice commerce connection.

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