Tech heavyweights like Amazon, Google and Microsoft are heavily pushing their voice assistants, and major retailers and brands are choosing sides.

Bart Mroz, founder and CEO, Sumo Heavy

Bart Mroz, founder and CEO, Sumo Heavy

The voice shopping market is materializing rapidly as major players jockey for position during the holiday season, forging alliances and introducing new voice-activated smart speaker devices. Although voice shopping is still in its nascent stages, millions of users are buying smart speaker devices, with end-of-year sales spiking sharply.

Among the signs pointing to a surge in voice shopping this holiday season were the red hot sales of smart speakers over the Thanksgiving holiday. Amazon’s Echo Dot and other voice assistants were among the biggest Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals at retailers such as Target and Best Buy, as well as Amazon’s own site.

A recent comScore study found that the smart speaker category has reached a critical adoption threshold; 11 percent of U.S. households with Wi-Fi owned a smart speaker as of October 2017, which represents a 38 percent increase since June.

Retailers should begin putting strategies in place to add voice-shopping capabilities to their e-commerce programs.

As the number of homes installing smart speakers swells, so are the number of consumers inclined to engage in voice shopping this holiday season. A recent survey by SAP Hybris found that 38 percent of U.S. consumers would consider using digital assistants for their holiday shopping this year, a significant increase over the 17 percent who reportedly used voice devices for holiday shopping last year.

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Voice-Shopping Wars

Amazon, with a two-year head start, owns a dominant 70 percent share of the smart-speaker market, with Google in second place with a 23 percent share. Although Amazon and Google have enjoyed an uncrowded smart speaker market, a spate of new voice-activated devices are scheduled to pour into the market at year’s end, including new smart speaker devices from Apple, Microsoft, Sono, Baidu, Samsung, and Alibaba.

As the current leaders, and with billions of dollars in e-commerce sales at stake this holiday season, Amazon and Google have ramped up their battle to attract retailers and shoppers to their respective voice-shopping platforms.

In the latest round of alliances, Walmart, Target, Costco, and Home Depot have teamed up with Google for voice-assisted shopping. Google also partnered with Estee Lauder to offer voice-enabled, personalized, nighttime skincare regimens for customers using Google Home.

Best Buy, meanwhile, has partnered with Amazon to make its goods available via Amazon Alexa, including Best Buy Deals of the Day. Best Buy joins REI Co-op, B&H Photo, and 1-800-Flowers in Amazon’s voice-shopping stable of partners. Amazon and Microsoft formed an alliance earlier this year to integrate their respective voice assistants, Alexa and Cortana, making Amazon voice shopping available to 145 million Microsoft Cortana users.Amazon and Google also are competing to embed their voice shopping platforms into other devices. Amazon, for example, has incorporated its Alexa voice assistant into speakers, phones, and thermostats and has signed deals with Ford, Sears, and Bragi for Alexa integrations. Google reportedly is negotiating with Sony and LG to integrate Google Home into their products.

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Holiday Specials

For the holiday season, Amazon is running a limited-time Oprah Winfrey voice-shopping promotion in which Oprah will make her Favorite Things list available via Amazon voice devices. Also for the holidays, Calvin Klein will sell new underwear exclusively on Amazon, rather than in department stores. Calvin Klein, working with Amazon Fashion, also is featuring Amazon Echo devices in pop-up shops this holiday season in New York and Los Angeles.

Google, for its part, is running TV commercials pitching its Google Home line. Google voice-shopping partner Walmart discounted Google Home products on Black Friday and Cyber Monday and offered shoppers additional discounts when they ordered through the Google devices within a given time. This should continue throughout the Christmas season.

Retailer Readiness

With heavyweights like Amazon, Google, Walmart, Microsoft, and Apple battling to establish their positions, the stage is set for voice-powered retail-on-demand to become a commonplace reality. To capitalize on the voice-shopping opportunity, retailers should begin putting strategies in place to add voice-shopping capabilities to their e-commerce programs.

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Making your products available on Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and other major voice-shopping platforms is a first step. With increasing numbers of users searching for products using voice assistants, retailers also should make their sites and products voice-searchable. With mobile set to surpass desktop searches this holiday season, retailers should take pains to optimize for mobile commerce, including voice searching.

Customers are already demanding a personalized and simplified shopping experience, which retailers are working to deliver online and in stores. With the right strategy in place, voice shopping will fit naturally within a retailer’s overall omnichannel approaches.

Sumo Heavy is a digital commerce consulting and strategy firm.