By Katie Griffiths

The rise of Alexa and her artificial intelligence voice search buddies is changing the way we shop – permanently.

The idea of having a smart speaker freaked me out to begin with; just the thought that someone was listening to everything I said.

But the sheer damned handiness of that voice assistant soon won me over, as it is doing for fans of Google voice search.

The ease of telling Alexa to order more soap powder and a pack of toilet rolls instead of filing it away at the back of my mind and forgetting it trumped my concerns. It also made me realise the value of these devices in internet marketing.

The experience of other early adopters mirrors my own. The recent Connected Intelligence report found 65 per cent of people who own an Amazon Echo or the Google voice search offering, Google Home, can’t imagine going back.

Staggeringly, 42 per cent said their smart speaker was essential. This underlines the value of a high Alexa ranking or Google ranking.

Homes with children under-18 were four times more likely to have a smart speaker – showing a link to the convenience of voice search for busy families.

It’s anticipated that almost half of UK households will have a smart speaker within four years, revolutionising how we shop. Electronics, clothes and shoes are currently the most used terms on the Alexa ranking for shopping items.

Many people are hooking their voice search smart speakers up to other devices throughout their homes, using Alexa to control their heating thermostat, lights and appliances, for example.

They’re also verbally asking Alexa and Google’s AI to compare prices for them, research products and check reviews. People get more information back from voice searches, while putting less effort in. They don’t even have to reach into their pockets for their phones.

And that information will become a commodity for search engines, Amazon and Apple. Amazon is already harvesting the data collected by Echo on price comparisons and which product is eventually purchased.

That will help Amazon set prices more intelligently and responsively – and Jeff Bezos’s company has more data on buying and buyers than any other retailer. You already see them steering you towards purchases you may have been thinking about in their regular emails.

That co-opting of your data leaves the non-Amazon retailers in a bit of a bind. However, Google is building up a bank of data that it may one day decide to monetise, allowing other retailers to gain an understanding of how they are performing against their competitors.

It’s against this background that the importance of voice search optimisation for business websites must be underlined. Remember, people ask questions of Alexa, while they type keywords into Google. There’s a difference that websites must address to remain competitive, and Only Retail has a dedicated voice search team working on this development.

We can now access so much information so conveniently it’s beginning to change the way we shop, and it’s starting to put pressure on retailers – Toys R Us is the latest victim of this retail evolution.

It’s going to be interesting to see how retailers react to AI … and how quickly.

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