surreal image of arm coming out of yellow wall holding the receiver of an old phone
PHOTO: Elena Koycheva

Voice devices — and voice commerce — are slowly gaining traction. According to Voicebot.ai, 22% of smart speaker owners have already tried voice commerce. That said, widespread adoption of voice technology still looks a long way off.

What does the future of voice commerce look like? We’ve turned to industry leaders to find out what the roadblocks to voice commerce are, and how the industry can overcome them.

What Are The Roadblocks to Voice Commerce?

According to the experts, several roadblocks are holding back voice commerce from reaching its full potential.

Adoption Issues

The first major hurdle is adoption, especially amongst the older generations. “While younger people often find it natural to speak to a device,” explained Inge De Bleecker, senior director of User Experience at Framingham, Mass.-based Applause, “many others find it cumbersome and they may be concerned that the system will not understand them.” Even if the technology has developed enough to be usable, there’s still enough resistance for adopting voice devices.

Lack of Visual Interface

“Voice, as it stands today, is not well aligned with user behaviors throughout the buying process,” De Bleecker said. This is mostly due to the lack of any visuals of the product. “This is a problem for voice-only devices both during the product research and purchase process,” De Bleecker added. Most consumers need to see a preview of the item before they buy and want a visual confirmation that they purchased the correct product after the fact. “That’s part of the reason voice commerce is most popular for reordering items,” she said. There’s no unwanted surprises.

Related Article: The Future Is Multimodal: Why Voice Alone Will Never Be the Answer

Speech Recognition Issues

“The voice recognition aspect is an inherent roadblock,” said Dinesh Bajaj, SVP and industry head of Retail, CPG & Logistics at Bangalore, India-based Infosys, “as the technology has difficulty understanding consumers due to accents, varied speech cadence, and other aspects.” Voice technology continues to improve, but it still hasn’t reached a point where the majority of consumers trust it for making purchases correctly.

Shortcomings With Contextual Understanding

“Another aspect of these voice recognition challenges is that the technology isn’t sophisticated enough to understand who the customer is,” Bajaj said. Voice devices usually cannot recognize where the voice is coming from, whether it’s a child that shouldn’t be making purchases or sound from a TV that accidentally got picked up. “Additionally,” Bajaj continued, “the consumer starts the buying journey at multiple points.” Voice apps often can’t understand the context between different platforms to provide a seamless shopping experience.

Related Article: Where Voice Experiences Fit in Customer Service

Development Challenges

De Bleecker believes many issues remain in the development and testing of the voice apps themselves. “Most companies are still refining their voice assistants,” she said, “which is why many companies have little used or poorly performing skills currently on the market.” Voice apps are still highly complicated to design and test effectively, and this is creating bottlenecks for launching voice commerce experiences.

How Voice Commerce Can Succeed

For voice commerce to succeed, brands need to improve their efforts in designing, developing and testing voice apps. “Designing intuitive interfaces and embracing multimodal options is also essential,” De Bleecker said. That means having a tight integration between voice and visual so that users are confident about making a purchase.

Bajaj agreed, “It may take some time to mature, but if you combine voice technology with digital screens, it can solve a variety of problems.” He thinks a visual rendering of a sales representative or the product could help build trust with consumers. “This way, customers are able to see the facial expressions of the sales associate or they’re able to view the products they’re interested in,” Bajaj explained, “so there’s no confusion.” 

“Finally,” De Bleecker said, “brands need to test the voice app to ensure the app works for all customers, on all devices, in all relevant locations.” Testing the user experience is crucial for eliminating the friction of voice commerce. That means brands need to “ensure users understand the concept, find the navigation and experience intuitive, and can complete all expected tasks with ease,” De Bleecker explained.

Related Article: The Problem With Voice Datasets

Will Voice Commerce Grow Louder?

“Voice technology hasn’t reached a level of maturity or robustness where it can offer a seamless, frictionless experience for the consumer,” Bajaj said. In the near future, he believes we’ll see a lot of situations where brands combine voice technology with things like digital screens to ease the chances of widespread adoption.

De Bleecker sees the resistance as similar to the transition from brick and mortar retail to ecommerce not too long ago: “I think it will take some time for voice commerce to truly become commonplace,” concluded De Bleecker, “but we will get there.”