By Katie Griffiths

Voice activated shopping is changing the face of retail marketing.

Last year, Amazon found that sales of its Echo devices increased ninefold compared to 2015.

This internet connected smart speaker uses voice recognition to play your favourite songs, read the news and even tell you a joke via its Alexa assistant.

A mere 8.2 million US consumers now own one of these digital assistants.

But more than that, owners of the Amazon Echo spent around 10% more on Amazon in the six months after purchasing this handy little voice-activated tool, with buyer frequency going up 6%.

And research found that Echo owners do around half their online spending at Amazon once they take ownership of a speaker.

Voice-activated shopping is set to have a dramatic impact on approaches to retail marketing, now that Google is challenging Amazon with its own voice-activated shopping assistant and Chinese manufacturer Lenovo has produced its own Echo clone, powered by Amazon’s own technology.

Voice-activated technology doesn’t stop at these in-home assistants.

At the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show, LG unveiled its Smart Instaview Refridgerator – which connects to Alexa technology to allow householders to buy groceries just by talking to the fridge.

Ford have announced that its Sync 3 infotainment system will enable Alexa to read weather reports, play music, check news and add items to a shopping list as you drive.

Shopping has never been more effortless.

So it is vital for marketers to get better at weaving brands organically, authentically, into the everyday life of consumers.

The challenge is now for marketers to get into consumers’ voice-activated shopping bags.

With that in mind, we may see these three strategies being adopted. 

Back to basics branding

Marketers need to get their brand to be synonymous with an entire category – such as when Kimberley Clark implanted in our psyche that tissues were forevermore to be called Kleenex.

When a consumer repeat buys with Echo, for example, the system works by looking to the last time that item was ordered, and simply adds that same item to the shopping cart.

Which is fine if your brand was the one previously ordered.

But, when people haven’t voice-purchased from a particular category before, they aren’t necessarily asking the assistant for specific brands. They’re shopping for general products. “Alexa, we need beer,” or, “Ok Google, order toilet paper.” As a brand marketer, you need to pull the right levers so that customers request your brand by name on that first order. “Ok Google, it’s time to refill our Charmin.”

The pressure on brands to make themselves front-of-mind increases –but at the same time there is a whole new group of shoppers coming online with no history of voice shopping. So as a brand, this gives them a blank canvas to start influencing these consumers to think of them – and them alone – when they need a certain product.

gathering data for an Omnichannel approach

Omnichannel has been a buzzword for retail marketers for several years, but no one has figured out how to implement it – yet. Voice-enablement could be the unifying force omnichannel has been missing.

For example, imagine a scenario where you wake up in the morning and Alexa reminds you that you qualify for a free beverage at your usual morning coffee stop.

 “Good morning Jane, you have coffee points to use. Shall I order your usual? It will be free today”

“Yes Alexa.”

“Okay. I will place the order when you are 5 minutes away.”

Through Echo’s integration with the coffee shop’s mobile app, the store would know when to make the order, tell you it’s ready with a push notification as you drive, and potentially even have a barista hand-deliver your coffee when you pull up.

The potential to improve the service experience extends into all facets of retail and serves as a reminder that brand value can sprout from simply taking action to indulge impulsiveness.

Amazon leads the way in collecting, processing, updating and analysing information about its customers to fuel everything from personalised upselling, to setting prices to attract more customers. Echo increases the number of interactions from which Amazon can pull preference data to log, and act upon.

In-home assistants give marketers a more fluid means to grab shoppers’ interests at random times.

Marketers must take the lesson from Amazon - and focus on storing and refreshing customer data, so they know when to act.

Riding Google’s competitive challenge

Google will have to focus its efforts on voice-activated shopping if it is to compete effectively with Amazon. The firm is currently partnering with retailers where consumers already shop frequently, and markets its shopping feature as a way to handle everyday purchases — a strategy it is betting will lead to more repeat purchases, make more customers comfortable, and ultimately lead to outright reliance Google Home.

Let Google do the work to make Home essential to consumers by way of the shopping app, and reap the benefits of better promotion and organic distribution.

If history tells us anything, Google’s voice-activated shopping application should dovetail closely with search marketing algorithms.

When someone tells Google they need toilet rolls, or a new pair of shoes, or a duvet cover, the Google assistant will be programmed to suggest ordering from the local retailer which rises to the top of search results for that category.

So there’s no reason to believe Google cannot become a wide-open space for retailers of every stripe to gain a foothold. It’s just an extension of tried and true search marketing.


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