Though voice-activated devices like Amazon Alexa are appearing atop bookshelves and desks at record rates thanks to sales of smart speakers doubling in 2017 from the year prior, consumers still aren’t sold on using them as a means to shop.
According to a recent survey conducted by digital software company Episerver, of the 40 percent of respondents that own a voice-assisted device, only 60 percent actively use it and 66 percent have never used it to make a purchase. The study, which consulted 4,000 global consumers, concluded that a majority still fail to see voice as a viable pathway to purchase, despite fashion and beauty brands continuing to experiment with the technology as an alternative avenue to drive sales.
In the past year alone, fashion companies like Perry Ellis and beauty brands like Wunder2 and Eucerin Skincare have experimented with voice tools that pair styling and product recommendations with purchasing capabilities. However, retail experts remain skeptical that consumers will find value in making orders using voice-activated devices.
“The idea that we’re going to turn around to Alexa at home and tell it to buy something quite specific at a high price point isn’t going to happen,” said Joey Moore, director of product marketing at Episerver. “I don’t see fashion really adopting voice anytime soon, but I can see it augmenting the shopping experience, for example, by asking Alexa to give reviews about hiking jackets or boots.”
The crux of the challenge for retailers is that, while sales of products like Alexa and Google Home are growing, their use cases remain vague and inconsistent. According to a recent report by Adobe, the top three uses reported were checking weather and asking “fun questions,” and general research. The rest of the list included asking for directions and setting reminders, with shopping as the lowest-ranked activity.
Jason Goldberg, svp of commerce and content at Sapient Razorfish, said while he anticipates voice commerce gaining traction in areas that are conducive to consistent replenishment like grocery, he doesn’t anticipate it to be a viable means for driving sales for fashion brands.
“Especially for first-time purchases with complicated attributes like size and color, people are never going to want to buy something via voice,” he said. “They’re never going to want to take a voice quiz and answer questions before purchasing something.”
On the other hand, he said said beauty has potential to gain headway on voice, given consumer propensity to stay loyal to specific brands and replace go-to products with regularity. However, for fashion brands, he said they can use voice to their advantage by building strategies around search engine optimization as consumers increasingly turn to Alexa and Google Home devices to ask everyday questions.
For example, brands can find ways to ensure they rank higher in queries and then structure marketing tactics accordingly, which may include seeking out advertising opportunities with Alexa in the near future. (Though Amazon has alluded to rolling out an advertising platform on Alexa, it’s been slow to launch as it continues to test user experience.)
Moore, the director of marketing at Episerver, said voice technology is ultimately too nascent for anyone to know if it will resonate with consumers, but compared it to the slow build of consumer interest around mobile sales and e-commerce which now comprise a significant percentage of retail sales.
“Consumers, as much as brands, are still finding out the ways to interact and work with this technology,” he said. “You’ve been able to buy stuff online going on 20 years, but it’s only in the last few that it’s become completely part of everyone’s expectations. It took at least a decade for that kind of technology to evolve.”
In the end, voice may only find a niche with specific commodities and basic items, but Moore said brands that have the resources have nothing to lose by experimenting with voice.
“Trying these new technologies improves the customer experience so that when [voice commerce does] become mature, brands will be able to execute that much quicker,” he said. “But also their consumers will see them as much more forward-thinking.”