Human communication has evolved at a breakneck speed, aiding us to become the single most dominant species on this planet. In prehistoric times, our ancestors used to interact with symbols, pictographs, and cave paintings. Language started from there – and humans were the only ones who could communicate with each other coherently. Words followed soon after, spoken and scribbled. More recently, we have been interacting with our phones and computers more than we do with each other. Our devices have become an extension of ourselves, making us less of a human on the other hand.
We used keyboards to type out commands, then used pointing devices and buttons, and touchscreens later to make machines do what we want them to do. But as humans, between ourselves, there are no buttons, no touch interfaces. We talk. That is why our devices are becoming more and more sentient so that they can talk to us, and we to them. Voice is the single most natural way to communicate with anything – because conversation is what truly distinguishes our species.
The underlying speech technology keeps becoming better, the devices become more intelligent each passing day, and our world gets to be a connected place more than ever. You can shop for grocery items using your email just by telling a home speaker to do so, and then check the order status from another, at your workplace. You can ask it to play music according to your taste and mood, and even ask it to suggest recipes. All of this without moving even a finger.
When it comes to the e-commerce domain, Amazon seems a bit ahead of the competition with its wide range of Echo devices and cloud-based Alexa assistant. The reason for this is the amount of information it has about your shopping behaviour and a budding app ecosystem for Echo devices. The Google Play Store was one of the major reasons why Google’s Android became the leading mobile operating system and still is. These devices and Alexa can be a boon for the e-commerce industry, as their reach grows in the home and workplace automation.
Building a conversational experience with your users helps you create an engaging relationship with them. Picture this – an average consumer can search and order products from your website just by telling a device to do so. No need of opening an app or typing phrases (sometimes misspelt). Some of the other possible use cases can be :
Alexa, show me what products are trending.
Alexa, what are the newest arrivals(in Men shirts).
Alexa, is the newest Apple Watch back in stock?
Alexa, find me the nearest CityMart store.
Alexa, show me the best deals you got for CityMart.
Alexa, where is my last order?
These are just glimpses of what Alexa can do today. Amazon is keeping the field open to all the device manufacturers by offering Alexa as a Voice Service, which means any OEM can integrate Alexa in their own products. Ford and Volkswagen are building Alexa in their cars, you can turn on the AC and pull down the windows with your voice. LG has a refrigerator with Alexa(yes, it can order food items for you), and smart lights with Alexa built in. You can even ask your coffeemaker how you like your morning coffee; there are many devices and appliances that can tap into this niche segment. The voice experience that you establish with your users gives you a competitive edge, and hugely impacts your brand recognition.There are already hundreds of Alexa skills for e-commerce on its store, and the numbers are only going up.
While the world moves away from the traditional keyboard search in the browser, it is becoming imperative to find new channels to reach your customers. Even Google, whose major source of revenue is website ads, is trying to find new ways to generate revenue in the form of cloud platform and hardware devices. Amazon too has not yet publicly disclosed its monetization plans for Alexa service, apart from the hardware devices they sell. Their policy seems to be clear on this – ‘dominate first, monetize later’. Being an economical way to engage and entice the end users, this is also what makes this phase important for the enthusiastic businesses.
The future holds a promise for early adopters of voice-guided commerce. With Google and Apple catching up to Amazon with their own offerings, and Amazon refining its devices and Alexa service, the technology is making fast inroads into our homes. For example, Amazon has launched an Alexa device with a screen and stereo speakers (Echo Show). Now, not only can Alexa spell out your order history or product search results, it can also show them to you. Ask for the top selling products on a website, and product images fill up its screen. Again, ask Alexa to make a purchase for you, right from there. Another of the devices has a camera built-in(Echo Look). An AI-enabled digital assistant that can see you now! In the near future, it may be able to recommend products based on what is in your home, what you are wearing, even what you need. The pace at which this domain is growing is mind-boggling. In order to stay ahead in the race, the present tech giants can afford to do nothing less because the competition is tough. In the end, the consumer is the one who wins the roulette for ease of use, features, and available services on these platforms.