boy shouting into a microphone
Voice is primed to become the next big interface. The time to start exploring how your company can use it is now PHOTO: Jason Rosewell

Voice took the world by storm this year. And with nearly 30 million voice-enabled devices in circulation, and brands like Target and Walmart working on partnerships to bring shopping powered by voice to consumers, we’re only going to see demand rise.

The majority of retailers will have voice on their road maps in 2018, and many of them are already investing in it today. These companies understand their customers turn to voice to improve their experiences surrounding product search, discovery and filtering. That’s why having a voice strategy is just as important as having a mobile one, with voice poised to be the next big interface.

Here are some things we know about voice:

While the figures in the Walker Sands report seem surprisingly high, the trend is indisputable. Knowing what we know about voice and its impact, here's a quick list of things to keep in mind when evaluating a voice strategy for your business.

Understand Your Users and the Voice Landscape

Like all great product strategies, a voice-enabled system starts with the customer. Your team may see that voice presents an opportunity to be competitive in the market and innovate for your loyal customer base. But how are you going to capitalize on that opportunity? Are you going to build a skill for Alexa? Add voice to your mobile app or website?

It will be easier to identify the right strategy for your business when you understand the use case that has the most impact for your users. Is a multimodal experience ideal? One with a screen? Or can you have an audio-only voice experience, like music or task management, that doesn’t require a visual interface?

While Nike might decide to build a multimodal voice interface, online grocery retailer Jet.com might opt for an audio-only ordering system. There are millions of use cases, but it comes down to how your users want to use voice today, and how their needs align with the digital experience you’re delivering.

Make Voice an Integral Part of Your Business

Leveraging voice as part of your digital strategy can’t just be a matter of adding another feature, like adding chat to your website. I’d argue that it’s just as important as your mobile strategy. Voice is fundamentally changing how we interact with technology. It's the technology that gives a voice to artificial intelligence, and it’s making technology accessible to large portions of the population like never before.

So when it comes to making voice an integral part of your business, don’t just think about mobile. If you’re a brand like T.J. Maxx or Walgreens, think about the in-store voice experience and how voice can help drive more brick-and-mortar traffic. Think about how voice can provide one unified experience for your customers, no matter where they are in their buying journey, or whether they’re on a phone or in a store.

Test Early and Often

Floral retailer 1-800 Flowers was one of the companies that jumped on the voice bandwagon early. It started with an Alexa skill and has moved to integrations with Google Assistant to bring voice ordering to the phones of millions. The company's first move met the harsh reality of low user adoption: People didn’t want to order flowers on a device with no screen. They wanted the ability to see what they were getting, and to filter their searches by occasion or season.

In order to get to the voice experience that will be most meaningful for your users, you will need to openly test and be completely transparent. Ask your customers how they might use voice. Ask them to test a beta feature. Do user testing to better understand how people will interact with your new system. There are no wrong answers here. And since voice technology is readily accessible and easy to implement, the barrier to entry is significantly lower than what it was for new technologies 50 years ago.

If we could turn back time by 20 years, would any retailer not choose to dive into ecommerce much sooner and much more seriously than it did in practice? If we could turn back time by 10 years, would any retailer not want to dive into mobile commerce much sooner and much more seriously than it did in practice?

This Is Just the Beginning

I believe that voice is the next interface. It will continue to be a key way we interact with our cars, various technologies and the world around us. And the best part? This is just the beginning. 

Companies are now starting to think about ways to weave voice into an omnichannel experience, to be at the foundation of what their brand means to consumers. With plenty of opportunity ahead, now is the time to start developing your voice strategy. Now is the time to dive into voice commerce.