Blog Post - Hugh Fletcher, Feb 2 2018

Raising your voice in retail - 2018

Raising your voice in retail - 2018

Raising your voice in retail in 2018; the rise of Zero UI and other trends

Voice is booming. As of January 2018, 39 million voice-enabled ‘smart speakers’ were in use – a year-on-year growth rate of 128% - with 15% of US households owning one. Additionally, an astounding 75% (29 million) are Amazon Alexa devices. And by 2021 Nielsen estimates that 55% of searches will be via voice, whilst Gartner estimates that as soon as 2020.

So, if 2017 marked the step change in awareness of Zero UI (User Interface), then 2018 looks set to solidify voice assistants as the retail technology trend that could have the biggest impact on retailers and consumers alike.

While at first glance this may seem like the simple addition of connected speakers in our homes, it means a whole lot more than that:

  • It represents the opening of doors into the home for some of the biggest tech (and retail) innovators in the world. And that, in turn, means their role will become more central to our lives over time as their influence secretly grows. Point of fact: 44% of those with smart speakers are already using them for making purchases online.
  • It is evidence of the mass market adoption of zero UI – in this case, voice, which will see customers become less reliant on screens for their digital and online interactions.
  • It will revolutionise the way we search – creating more competition to own a customer’s first online interaction. In other words, the default Google search will start to be challenged as customers use voice directly to retrieve results. All of this has the potential to challenge the way we shop, the way that we perceive and choose brands, and change our retailer loyalty.

As you can see, your Amazon Echo will be able to do a lot more than just tell you the weather!

Owning the interface

And that’s exactly what Amazon wants. What the online giant is boldly looking to do is secure a larger slice of the sector by connecting customers to its vast online marketplace. If this trend continues, customers will become more comfortable with voice-purchases.

Moreover, Amazon is looking to take this one step further by introducing Alexa ads that can offer exclusive promotions to the customer, likely based on shopping history.

In what’s becoming somewhat of a catchphrase of mine; "if you own the interface, you own the customer. If you own the customer, you own the data. And if you own the data, you own the future".

Embrace customers, then technology

It’s not unfair to say that the rules of retail are becoming more customer-driven, and, therefore, more democratic. And what the customer wants is being led by innovation. No-one was screaming for a voice-activated personal assistant, but they were screaming for choice, ease and convenience.

Take the consumer desire for same-day/next-day delivery; this has put enormous stresses on companies’ fulfilment and operations systems, as inventory now has to be ready to be dispatched almost immediately after purchase.

If company execs ignore the customer craving for same-day/next-day delivery (and, in turn, neglect the fact that their back-end systems need to be heavily interconnected), these out-of-touch retailers will be the ones most likely to lose.

A peak into other 2018 trends

Away from voice, there are a couple of other technologies knocking at the door this year…

Augmented reality (AR) has long been talked about, but, with the integration of Apple’s AR Kit and AR Core (integrated AR within the newest operating system), it’s highly likely that AR will be making much more of a splash in 2018. Its usages will be myriad – from entertainment, to visualisation, to routing.

We’ll also see new methods of purchasing. Without being consciously aware, consumers are already heading towards more automated purchasing. We’ve termed this ‘Programmatic Commerce’ – automated purchases based on customers’ pre-determined preferences.

A version of the concept has already been used; Brita and Amazon teamed up to launch a Wi-Fi water filter that automatically reordered filters via Amazon Dash. Of course, this is a very niche example but a clear instance of Programmatic Commerce in action.

So, retailers, have their work cut out; whether through integrating voice into the purchasing journey or developing Augmented/Virtual reality technologies to wow the customer, 2018 looks set to take retail by the horns.

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