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Widespread adoption of voice-controlled ecommerce is only a matter of time PHOTO: Alexander Mueller

With millions of Echo and Echo Dot devices sold last holiday season, and a projected 10 million units in homes by the end of 2017, it’s clear that Amazon’s voice-activated personal assistant, Alexa, is rapidly gaining widespread consumer adoption. 

Alexa is an illustration of Amazon’s ability to meet consumer demand for speed, convenience and ease, while pioneering a new way to shop. Alexa can play music, make appointments, change TV channels and more, but the most valuable feature for Amazon is that the software enables consumers to shop directly by voice.

This is great news for Amazon, but it will also inevitably change the way retailers market and sell their products. Most retailers and brands will have to act fast to prepare for ecommerce via digital assistant, and their biggest hurdle will be providing a voice-controlled shopping experience that is both intuitive and valuable for consumers.

Alexa’s Growing Skillset 

To capitalize on Alexa’s current set of ecommerce capabilities, companies create ‘skills’ that are specific to their businesses or websites. Skills are Amazon’s name for the voice-driven capabilities that enhance Alexa’s functionality. 

For example, Lyft’s skill enables users to order rides directly from the device. Domino’s skill allows users to order pizza by voice, and even check order status. Similar to Apple’s App Store, retailers must use the Amazon API to get in the game.

Avoiding Low Adoption and Zombie Skills

Despite these investments from retailers and brands, consumer adoption is still surprisingly low. An industry report by VoiceLab revealed that 69 percent of Alexa’s more than 7,000 skills have zero or only one customer review, and there’s only a three percent chance that a given user will be actively using a given skill in the two weeks following its initial download. 

To avoid building these so-called ‘zombie skills,’ brands need to master the new interface and the unique challenges of a voice engine that doesn’t always correctly interpret spoken words or comprehend context. 

3 Steps to Laying a Foundation for Voice-Controlled Commerce

To integrate voice-controlled commerce into their digital strategies, brands must do three key things to put the foundational capabilities in place to utilize this emerging channel: 

1. Rethink their approach to product attribution

Because shoppers will search for products much differently via voice-enabled commerce than they do using traditional visual-based channels, companies must consider how they will structure their product descriptions. 

That extends to thinking about how their sites and catalogues should be organized to help customers search, navigate and shop via this new channel. For a voice-controlled model to be truly effective, customers must be able to access information about products quickly, including price, size, customer reviews and their own past purchases.

2. Ensure content accuracy and consistency across channels

Centralized content systems must be developed because siloed data systems will inhibit retailers’ ability to optimize product attribution, as well as slow down time to market. 

3. Understand how their core customers shop

Retailers will need a thorough understanding of how repeat customers shop to integrate their past purchase history into each new shopping experience. For example, if a consumer asks Alexa to order more dish detergent, that requires knowledge of the exact brand and amount of the product they usually purchase. 

What’s more, retailers must be prepared to provide highly personalized product recommendations based on customer history and preferences to streamline the purchase process and anticipate shoppers’ next actions. 

Prepare for the New Frontier 

Voice-controlled commerce is a new frontier that requires major adjustments to the existing ecommerce infrastructure. Today, retailers are limited by consumer adoption and their own ability to support the channel. 

But widespread adoption of voice-controlled ecommerce is inevitable, and forward-thinking brands are already thinking about and investing in the digital solutions that will propel them ahead in this new market.