How voice search is changing the way we shop

Over the years, the way we interact with the world around us has changed considerably. Where once analog and physical interactions ruled, now we value digital, virtual and simulated experiences -- some of which bridge the gap between these worlds.

For example, buying goods online or through a mobile app and then picking them up at a local store is a cross-platform experience for the modern age.


Much as the internet changed the way we interact with the world and communicate, mobile did the same, and now so is voice. This includes voice search and voice-enabled technologies outside the traditional telecommunication sector. The best-known are virtual assistants offered through a mobile or smart home device, such as Siri, Google Assistant or Alexa.

Through any one of the Amazon Echo devices you can call upon Alexa -- its smart voice assistant -- and order products without ever leaving your home. You can also conduct web searches or pose queries for more information. Voice assistants can even read web content and text aloud.

As of January 2018, Alpine.AI estimates there were over 1 billion voice searches happening per month. Furthermore, there will be 1 billion voice-enabled devices in circulation by the end of the year.

With voice taking hold, the question is: How does this affect the way we shop? How has it affected the way people interact with brands, and what does it mean for the future?

Voice Offers Humanization

A digital experience, while enjoyable and convenient, is largely considered to be devoid of the human touch. Much of what we do when interacting through technology is cold and lifeless. The taps, swipes, typing and clicks are rudimentary and have really moved things away from the physical experience of more conventional in-person and analog engagements.

Voice has the potential to inject more human-like connections back into technology. It offers humanization and intimacy, which is something the average consumer loves. Empathy and human connection are what make real-world interactions more authentic, and brands can use this to build trustworthy, personalized relationships. According to Gartner, about 30 percent of all web searches will be done without a screen -- presumably by voice -- by the end of 2020.

Consider how Siri or Alexa talks to you, for example. Yes, on some level it’s merely a software application run by AI and programmed algorithms. However, these assistants know your preferences, user history and shopping habits, and they use that information to interact with you on a more personal level. Through voice, brands can do more than just know you through harvested data -- they can engage and openly interact with you on that same level.

It’s Not the Only Tech Changing Retail and E-commerce

Voice certainly isn’t the only technology changing the retail and e-commerce world. Mixed reality -- like AR and VR -- AI, automated and unmanned checkout systems, and tech-based loyalty programs are all changing the way we shop.

The latter is especially transformative when you look at programs like Target’s Cartwheel -- which is offered through a proprietary app. Target customers receive anywhere from 5 to 50 percent off certain items when shopping in-store through the mobile app.

Through these platforms and technologies, retailers are altering the way conventional shopping works. However, you’ll notice that of all the tech listed, voice seems to one of the few adding the human touch back into digital experiences.

How Will This Affect Shopping Habits?

Voice shopping is estimated to reach $40 billion between US and UK consumers by 2022. It is growing more popular by the day.

In the short term and on a more basic level, voice technology and voice search simply means consumers will shop using voice commands. However, it goes beyond just conducting a simple product search or web query using your voice.

It will be ingrained in everything consumers do, from natural conversations to modern interactions. Domino’s Pizza, for example, allows customers to order delivery through a voice assistant, similar to how they would over the phone.

Still, this is nothing more than an extension of phone-based ordering, which has long been a staple in the pizza and takeout business. Retail giant Amazon has used similar methods to drive customer sales via its online portal. You can order products via Alexa simply by asking her to place an order -- she’ll explore the top listings available on Amazon and give you an option to select one.

In both examples, however, consumers are still buying products directly through a website or listing of some kind. The only major difference is that they’re using their voice to navigate a UI, as opposed to their fingers or a mouse.

The real changes will come when brands learn to reach out and directly communicate with customers on a more personalized, more relevant basis. Run out of toilet paper? What if your personal assistant understood this and asked if you’d like him/her to order more?

Voice tech will be everywhere soon, on mobile, desktop and even in homes through smart speakers and IoT devices. It’s not about finding ways to hamstring voice-backed solutions, but instead improving upon existing interactions through the use of more humanized connections.

Image Credit: Kamil Macniak / Shutterstock

Kayla Matthews is a senior writer at MakeUseOf and a freelance writer for Digital Trends. To read more from Kayla, visit her website

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