Is voice commerce the secret to better retailer/customer relationships?

As voice-controlled devices have become ubiquitous in consumers’ homes, cars, and offices,  retailers are naturally exploring their options to have a voice in the crowd. After all, what better way to eliminate hurdles in online ordering than letting loyal customers simply declare “Alexa, reorder paper towels.”

There are several factors that make voice-controlled technology a natural, potentially enormous, part of Relationship Commerce. Technology like Alexa, Siri, and Cortana allow brands to be omnipresent without being in your face. Because these devices are woven into the fabric of our daily life, voice commerce can prove both intimate and natural.

The rich data and machine learning analysis served from voice interactions will also help retailers better understand customer intent, so they can serve needs as quickly and as seamlessly as possible.

And market analysts are highly bullish on the tech. A March research report from OC&C Strategy Consultants forecast the voice shopping market would hit more than $40 billion in 2022, up from $2 billion today.

The Big But…

However, new numbers released earlier this month left many wondering if voice isn’t the new consumer channel that we were promised.

“Of those people who did use voice to order something, 90% never tried it again.”

On August 6, The Information reported “only about 2% of the people with devices that use Amazon’s Alexa intelligent assistant — mostly Amazon’s own Echo line of speakers — have made a purchase with their voices so far in 2018, according to two people briefed on the company’s internal figures.”

And of those people who did use voice to order something, 90% never tried it again.

An Amazon spokesperson disputed The Information’s numbers, saying “We do not agree with the numbers represented in the article. Millions of customers use Alexa to shop because it is the most convenient way to capture needs in the moment.”

The Voice of Tomorrow

Don’t throw out all that R&D just yet. Voice will inevitably emerge as an essential component in a Relationship Commerce ecosystem, but it’s still early days for the technology.

While Alexa and voice might not be full-fledged shopping platforms right now, it’s doubtless that they also represent a valuable brand extension. As Leo Sun at The Motley Fool points out, “[Though] Alexa isn’t a primary shopping platform yet, it still serves as an extension of Amazon’s marketplace. Amazon’s website and app are probably still better suited for browsing new products, while Alexa is optimized for placing repeat orders of prior purchases.”

“There might be very few voice shoppers right now,” a source told the Information, “but once you find out what’s special about them, you can grow them very quickly.”

And it’s very likely that the focus purely on e-commerce is short-sighted. The secret sauce of voice is in building better relationships over the long term. Alexa doesn’t just serve to skip the trip to Amazon.com. Alexa’s skills allow home cooks to ask advice from Campbell’s Soup, order a pizza from Domino’s, or hail a ride from Lyft.

And the ecosystem for Alexa is growing larger every day — third-party developers have incorporated more than 45,000 new skills. These are the kinds of relationships that will only grow stronger over time when voice and Relationship Commerce are done well.

“There might be very few voice shoppers right now,” a source told the Information, “but once you find out what’s special about them, you can grow them very quickly.”

We’re still a few decades away from anyone falling in love with his voice assistant (we hope), but it’s unlikely that this flashy new technology is just a flash in the pan.