Will Voice Commerce disrupt the relationship between brands and consumers?

By James Myring

It’s not an easy time to be a consumer brand.  If the rise of online aggregators and budget supermarkets isn’t enough, we now have the emergence of Voice Commerce.

On behalf of Fast-Up Partners, a European digital venture firm, we investigated whether virtual assistants, like Amazon’s Alexa, will disrupt the relationship between brands and consumers. Will consumers delegate brand choice to their voice assistant?

 Fast-Up Partners have used the findings to bring together several World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) members (including Mastercard) into a strategic Voice Coalition.

Strategic voice coalition

 

How do Alexa users currently use voice?

  • Alexa is well-liked and has established itself as part of people’s routines – users are developing a relationship with Alexa and refer to it as ‘she’.
  • Younger users are much more likely to experiment with the functionality – at the moment they think it can be ‘clunky’ or even ‘stupid’. However this doesn’t disappoint them as Alexa was often received as a gift or discounted with another product.  Consequently expectations are low and it performs the basic tasks, music/ weather/ traffic updates well.
  • The process of making a purchase with Alexa is still in its infancy – those purchasing with voice normally only made one or two purchases of commodity type products (e.g. pet food, toilet roll).
  • However, Alexa can still be very influential in the products/ brands that people buy even if people are not making the final purchase through voice – it is becoming increasingly popular to add items to the cart to review and purchase later.
  • Alexa can influence brand chosen in this way. A majority (59%) of products added to the cart with Alexa are eventually purchased unaltered. For more ‘basic’ products like pet food and domestic products, an overwhelming majority of products added to the cart with voice are eventually purchased without alteration.  More complex products (e.g. furniture/ financial products/ travel) are much less likely to be purchased unaltered.
  • There are low barriers to voice commerce. Voice commerce can piggy back on the existing online commerce payment and delivery infrastructure.

 

The future – an intelligent Voice Assistant.

The future of Voice Commerce is probably more interesting than the present.  We asked Alexa users to imagine a future where their Alexa voice assistant has become an ‘intelligent assistant’ and can:

  1. Have a much more ‘natural’ two-way conversation with you
  2. Link easily to screens so products can be displayed easily
  3. More effectively recommend a suitable product and brand based on your conversation and other information such as your purchase history, reviews by other consumers, and the price promotions that are available at any time

In this future world of intelligent virtual assistants almost all respondents were open to shopping with voice.  Barriers to Voice Commerce are relatively low and the technology needed to create intelligent assistants no longer seems like distant science fiction.  It is more a question of when rather than if.

The high levels of trust in Amazon and Alexa are also driving the high anticipated take up of Voice Commerce. Consequently Alexa users, particularly in the USA, are very open to Alexa taking a more active role in selecting brands.

Amazon Alexa brand recommendation and suitability

Amazon already has a great reputation for finding the right product, and trust in Amazon is transferred to Alexa and its recommendations. Indeed, many think that Alexa will be more intelligent than they are or have time to be.

Alexa is a trusted brand. It is able to use maths and science for better decision making

For most people, the act of choosing between brands for everyday purchases isn’t the best way to spend their time.

What’s not to like about an intelligent assistant? Especially one that knows all about you and your preferences AND the product sector where you are wanting to make a purchase.

An intelligent voice assistant could combine the best qualities of an online aggregator AND a word of mouth influencer – the equivalent of a close friend or family member who knows both you AND the sector where you are looking to make a purchase.

Our research findings strongly suggest that it’s not a question of will people be buying in significant numbers via voice, but when will they be doing it.  Brands need to think carefully about whether their brand equity is likely to be eroded by a more intelligent virtual assistant like Alexa.

 

But what does this mean for brands?

Does this mean that brands will always need to be front of mind and asked for by name?  When Alexa users were asked what would be the most important way to select brands when shopping with voice, 48% cited Alexa recommendations as the most important, and slightly fewer (46%) said that asking for a specific brand would be preferable.  If brands are not asked for by name they could be at the mercy of an algorithm.

brand based consumer decisions. Voice command reigns over the brand consumers purchase

The quotation below perhaps captures best the potential of Alexa to disrupt the relationship between consumers and brands.

The brand Alexa will become the brand people use if that makes sense

 

The research was presented at the 2019 Cannes Lions Festival, and was described as being “The most comprehensive on voice commerce to date”.

If you are interested in voice commerce, then do get in touch.

 

 

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