Voice search is here. What retailers need to know to prepare.

Voice search is here. What retailers need to know to prepare.

I know, I know. It feels like all anyone talks about anymore is voice search. In fact, we’re all so busy having conversations about voice and its impact that it’s a wonder we have any time to actually use our voice assistants…yet we do!

Plenty has already been written on what voice search is and why retailers need to be prepared for voice search, but here are a few stats that I thought it was worth sharing: an estimated 2.7 million UK homes already own voice-enabled devices according to Kantar WorldPanel. In 2016 voice search accounted for 30% of all search. It’s predicted to reach 50% of all search by 2020. We’re being trained by the likes of Amazon and Apple to simply shout out our needs and expect expedited local solutions to accommodate them. If there’s one thing people like, it’s ease. And what could be easier than speaking?


Image credit: @thexanaxdiary

As voice search gets more sophisticated and we progress from only using voice assistants to check the weather and play music to it becoming normal to use it to shop, the role and scope of voice assistants will only grow. Last year, IBM launched Watson Ads, which lets viewers “talk” with a brand’s ad and request additional info. Toyota, Campbell Soup and Unilever have tested the units, often averaging between one and two minutes of engagement, per Big Blue. “We have already begun to see that consumers are spending more time with these cognitive ads than with other digital ads,” says Carrie Seifer, CRO for the IBM Watson content and IoT platform.

So, we know that customers are happy to use voice search, and even happier when they can interact with it. But how will voice search impact your business? In the first instance, customers are most likely to buy low value, everyday items. This is both because the risk factor is minimised (all toothpaste is pretty similar and not expensive) and also because these are items that are regularly replaced, and do not require a long deliberation process. Unlike, for instance, big ticket items – such as a bed, or sofa. Here, people are unlikely to use voice search, preferring still to look at the item (in real life or on a screen). However, there are moves afoot to jump over this barrier – the Amazon Echo Show includes a screen, which allows shoppers to use voice assistants yet still see their purchases before buying.

In the meantime, companies need to make sure they optimise correctly for voice search. More and more, customers will expect your inventory to be compatible with and optimised for voice search. For a deeper dive into this, here are a couple of blogs we’ve previously written on ensuring your content is optimised for voice search and  voice search ranking factors

Preparing your enterprise platform for voice search

Many enterprise grade platforms such as SAP Hybris Commerce and Salesforce Commerce Cloud have the capabilities for voice search built in, so even if the channel or technology is not a focus when you move onto their platform, they are built with the flexibility to support these new channels. SAP Hybris is very aware of the importance and increased impact of machine learning, and its growing role in how sites can optimise for voice search. Whilst they are creating new capabilities, they already offer important components or features such as advanced personalisation, contextual merchandising, customer experience and sentiment analysis. A simple and effective way to do this is to integrate Google API, which then converts voice into text and sends to your commerce platform, and then brings back results.

Equally, flexibility and adaptability are key when it comes to voice search – and these platforms allow you to have different search indexes for different uses, and therefore to create relevancy rules that are personalised. For instance, a customer searching by voice will receive their results in a different format to one searching by text. E.g. For anyone who searches for red dresses by voice you can return results in one way e.g. price ascending, but if they were typing in search, could return best imagery – you’re able to manually merchandise. In this way, you can give a different engagement experience to your customers based on whichever device they’re using.

Voice search is here and with the right platform and proper optimisation, it can be a real benefit to your company, rather than a hurdle.

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