Posted on January 3, 2020 by staff

2020 will be the year voice search is truly heard


Ten years ago, just 6.9 per cent of all retail sales were made online. Today that figure sits at 20 per cent – and it shows no signs of slowing down.

Consumers are not just accessing the internet through their desktop, they are adopting new technologies and devices faster than ever. For example, the rise of voice assistants is transforming the way consumers search and buy products.

However while industry reporters were quick to comment on the dramatic rise of smartphones and their effect on commerce, they have been slower to embrace the role of voice assistance and the seismic shift this channel will have on consumer behaviour and commerce as a whole.

Strictly speaking, voice technology is not new. IBM engineer William C Desrch was responsible for inventing the technology in 1961: it was called ‘Shoebox’ and could speak 16 words and was used to solve mathematical problems.

Fast-forward half a century and Apple launched Siri into the marketplace in 2011. Android followed suit a year later, before Amazon unveiled their Echo device in 2015. One year later, Google entered the market with its own voice assistant.

Only last year, we saw a new generation of voice assistants enter the market, with smart touch screen displays to bring together the convenience of voice, with the engagement and interaction of a screen, such as Pepper, the world’s first humanoid robot able to recognise faces and basic human emotions.

The rise of voice is part of a larger evolution in the way people search and buy products and services. Up until recently, the search process was predominantly driven by desktop interactions, thanks to mass adoption of the internet. A second wave saw the rise of mobile devices and kiosks allowing consumers to self-navigate for products in-store or on the go, feeding the craving for convenience.

Today, it’s well-reported that 79 per cent of all product searches begin on Amazon, due to its digital dominance, convenience and the amount of choice it offers shoppers. And, while choice may be good, too much choice is bad.

When faced with thousands of options, consumers suffer from ‘choice overload’ leaving them unable to make a decision or buy. In fact, 42 per cent of consumers have admitted to feeling overwhelmed with the amount of choice available to them on a retailer or brand website.

The next wave of search will be led by voice assistants and robotics working simultaneously, with consumers searching and buying products through voice-led, unstructured conversations – and businesses need to be ready to meet the demands of consumers – while making the search process simpler.

The rise of adoption of voice assistants is largely connected to the way people’s lives are changing. We all demand convenience and are adopting technology to fundamentally make our lives simpler, think robot vacuum cleaners, slow cookers or doorbells with cameras, they all help us to simplify tasks and chores – and the same can be said of voice assistants.

Adobe’s State of Voice Assistants report that found 37 per cent of men and 27 per cent of women owned a smart speaker already. Unsurprisingly, 85 per cent of all respondents owned a smartphone with a voice assistant present.

Research shows that the rise of voice search will overtake traditional internet search in a short number of years. Before we get any further, let’s define ‘voice search’, it means to use ones voice command to search the Internet, a website, or an app – and it will change the way consumers buy forever.

Traditional commerce strategies and technologies will not help solve tomorrow’s problems. Offering consumers and assistance and guidance as they search for products to buy is not just a problem across voice search. The latest research highlights that 88 per cent of consumers demand more assistance and guidance while shopping.

But voice search is more complex. By its very nature it is unstructured and fluid like human conversation, brands and retailers need to be able to enter these dynamic conversations like never before to embark on the journey into voice search and enter this new dialogue.

The traditional methods of search using tech specs and keywords is fundamentally flawed and will not work across this channel. Companies need to translate vast amounts of product catalogue data and features into truly humanised language which requires natural language processing, sentiment analysis and artificial intelligence.

Voice is set to have a phenomenal effect on the way consumers find and buy products and services – think mobile, but bigger. Companies who begin investing in the voice search experience today will ultimately win tomorrow.