2017 has proven to be the year that voice assistants finally gain critical mass. But shoppers mainly buy items they’ve bought before.

Prathap Dendi, general manager, Business iQ (Business Performance Monitoring, Analytics), AppDynamics

Prathap Dendi, general manager, Business iQ (Business Performance Monitoring, Analytics), AppDynamics

The holiday shopping season is well on its way with the year’s biggest retail events raking in close to $20 billion in sales. As expected, countless reports are out on which channel took the biggest slice of the pie—mobile, web or traditional brick and mortar. However, there’s now a fourth contender vying for the consumer buck: the voice assistant.

IDC Retail Insights predicts “10 percent of chain retail sales will be created and managed via voice-enabled digital assistants.” This may come as no surprise as the biggest names in retail, such as Target, Walmart and Best Buy, have made major moves to join team Amazon Alexa or team Google Home this year. After many false starts, 2017 has proven to be the year that voice assistants finally gain critical mass with a record number of voice assistant devices sold and major partners getting behind the idea of connecting with consumers through voice.

With voice continuing to heat up, many retailers are starting to ask, “What’s my voice strategy and how do I get started?” Below are three steps every company needs to consider to create a successful voice shopping strategy.

Consumers are unlikely to make costly, one-time purchases through voice assistants.

Step 1: Decide if voice is right for your business right now

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Put aside all the hype and you’ll see that voice is still in its infancy. While it has the potential to seriously disrupt how we view online versus offline shopping, these are still early days. At this stage we’re seeing consumers give voice shopping a test run with products they frequently purchase such as dish soap, bananas or batteries. This makes sense since these items are familiar, relatively inexpensive and great to have in a pinch. To succeed at this stage of voice you need to ask yourself:

  • Is my product something consumers regularly replenish?
  • Will consumers be able to grasp what they are buying without lengthy explanations and/or pictures?
  • Is there a need to buy my product on the go?

The reality, for now, is that many consumers are unlikely to make costly, one-time purchases through voice assistants. These type of purchases typically go through rigorous rounds of researching reviews and price matching, tasks that are difficult to do through a voice assistant. If your product passes this litmus test, you can continue onto step two and begin planning how to unlock new levels of convenience for your customers in natural, seamless ways.

Step 2: Voice means no spinning wheels, so make sure your conversational UX is up to par

One of the biggest draws of voice assistants is immediate gratification. Consumers expect to say a command and be instantly notified that their items will promptly arrive within 24 hours. Speed and simplicity are demanded across all devices, and voice is no exception. In fact, voice will likely be held to a higher bar because there are no visuals distractions to cover up a slowdowns or glitches, just awkward silence. So the need to get conversational UX [user experience] right from the start should be a top priority.

Consider the simple example of ordering a T-shirt. This order requires at least two more steps, specifying color and size, to complete the transaction. Retailers need to figure out their drop-down menu equivalent for voice shopping to ensure it is quick and enjoyable. Forrester’s survey of customer loyalty vendors ranks customer experience as the top category for investment growth because it’s a “key driver of retention, enrichment, and advocacy.” So, a fresh UX design approach for voice is crucial, especially in these early days where trust is being built with the consumer.

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Step 3: Incorporate voice into your holistic digital strategy

Interacting with a voice assistants should feel personal and fun—like shopping with a friend. The best way to achieve this is to layer in contextual data from consumers’ mobile and web journeys. Taking the extra step to recommend styles, sizes and flavors based on their previous picks can help consumers navigate with more ease and make the whole process seem a little less “robotic.” And, most consumers anticipate this level of service. According to the NectarOM Marketing Personalization Survey 83 percent of customers “expect a personalized retail experience – in store, in app and long after they leave the store.”

Not only does this all have to come together on the front end, the ability to map every customer engagement point across your channels is essential for delivering a harmonious, high quality experience. Visualizing how your customers interact with your brand through mobile, web, in-store and voice can also help uncover new, creative ways for engagement that edge out competition.

Although it’s too early to tell who will dominate the voice shopping space, it is safe to say that the winners will choose a customer-centric approach. So put yourself in the consumer’s shoes and consider what blend of digital experiences would best fit their lifestyle and what they value most. Once you are able to find the right balance, you can expect to see high levels of engagement and loyalty go beyond the holiday season.

AppDynamics is an application performance management and IT operations analytics company based in San Francisco.

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