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Voice shopping: The next big thing in ecommerce

Thriving in a World of Zero Tolerance Shoppers

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Thriving in a World of Zero Tolerance Shoppers

Key points

  • Major companies like Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft are driving the voice shopping market with devices like smart speakers.
  • A report by OC&C Strategy Consultants predicts that voice shopping spending will grow to over $40 billion in 2022 alone, compared to $2 billion in spending today.
  • Voice shopping retailers and consumers must consider challenges and limitations of the platform — including potential fraud.

By now, you’re likely aware of the huge role mobile devices play in driving retail. BigCommerce reports that by 2021, mobile ecommerce sales are expected to account for 54% of total ecommerce sales. Voice shopping is the latest trend shaping the future of mobile commerce. It’s impossible to think of voice and mobile shopping as separate entities — these two experiences are forever intertwined. Customers now expect the convenience and speed of asking Alexa to complete a purchase in every mobile shopping interaction. Retailers should rise to the occasion to meet these expectations.

As omnichannel shopping evolves to include more devices and apps with new ways to buy the things consumers want, retail leaders must keep up with major trends to better serve their customers. Get started with a brief overview of voice shopping to understand the state of the channel and where this kind of commerce can go in the future, along with challenges and potential issues to watch out for.

Big tech companies are leading the voice shopping conversation

Optimism for the voice shopping market leans heavily on the future: Juniper forecasts that this market will skyrocket to $80 billion in 2023. Technology advancements that introduce new devices like smart speakers drive the massive growth predictions for this segment. According to the U.S. Smart Speaker Consumer Adoption Report published by Voicebot and Voicify in 2019, voice shopping increased with 66.4 million U.S.-based smart speaker owners in 2018. That means 26.2% of all U.S. adults has access to a smart speaker.

The usual tech suspects have already cashed in on the voice shopping boom. Users can interact with voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant and Microsoft Cortana to purchase almost anything via a smartphone or a voice-activated smart speaker. These artificial intelligence-powered virtual assistants are shaping not just the devices and interfaces we use, but also influencing entire retail marketing and advertising strategies.  

Adobe surveyed 400 business decision makers in 2018 about their plans for voice technology. The study found that 91% are already making significant investments in voice and 94% plan to increase their investment in the coming year. And as eMarketer suggests, the popularity of smart speakers will grow exponentially and lead to rapid improvements in an already fast-moving channel. 

Voice shopping is here to stay. Retail leaders can capitalize on the hot new trends in voice shopping, but they must also put the work into understanding the challenges and limitations of using voice to drive commerce. Get ready to plan for success when building or refining your voice shopping strategy by looking out for common issues.

Speak on it: voice shopping’s common challenges

Like with any hot technology, the early adoption stage is both the most exciting and tenuous time to get on board. It’s important to retain optimism for voice shopping’s meteoric rise, but temper those giddy feelings with a bit of reality. The hard truth about voice search technology is that it’s flawed. Smart retail leaders can find success with voice shopping if they go into their ventures with eyes wide open.

Here are a few of the biggest limitations and challenges with voice search and voice shopping.

Speech recognition isn’t perfect 

Today’s voice shoppers demand a broad range of options yet struggle with technology’s limitations, such as kinks within the AI interface. A research study performed by Forrester asked Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant and Microsoft Cortana 180 questions about products and services and ranked each response as either passing or failing. Overall, the voice assistants failed 65% of the questions. This failure rate may frustrate customers and make it less likely that they will engage with voice-activated devices.

Additional hardware is a hard sell for users

Consumers are also limited by manufacturers’ requirements for hardware and the associated costs. In some cases, consumers may need to spend more to get full access to voice shopping capabilities. To use Amazon’s Alexa voice search and shopping service, consumers must be Amazon customers and have a device enabled with Alexa. This means they need to use the Amazon app on their cell phone or purchase additional hardware such as a Fire tablet or an Echo Dot. Moreover, Alexa users cannot access complete functionality for Alexa voice shopping unless they are members of Amazon Prime. The ask to purchase additional hardware to take advantage of voice shopping convenience might be too much for some consumers.

Users are slow to adopt

Another challenge in the voice shopping market is that most consumers haven’t tried it. Keep in mind that this segment is still very small. At the end of 2018, eMarketer projected that voice shopping commerce in 2018 will reach $2.10 billion — just 0.4% of U.S. ecommerce sales. According to a 2019 study conducted by Sumo Heavy, fewer than one in five consumers have shopped using a voice assistant. Lackluster shopping experiences with virtual assistants that fail to understand commands and requirements to purchase additional hardware may be influencing potential voice shopping users to avoid trying the new technology, leading to the lower than expected adoption numbers.

Retail leaders can create effective marketing and customer experience strategies when they have all the information. Voice search still has a long way to go in many aspects, but the rewards outweigh the risks. Just make sure you’re aware of the risks and how to plan around them.

Fraud thrives in voice tech — for now

Voice technology’s fast rise has captured the attention of consumers, advertisers and retailers alike — as well as fraudsters. The voice channel is unfortunately ripe for fraud and other security vulnerabilities, mostly because the platforms, interfaces and devices are still so new.

Retailers and consumers must navigate a minefield of potential fraud when using voice search and shopping services. From privacy breaches like Amazon sending a German Alexa user’s recordings to the wrong user to concerted fraud efforts like deep fake audio scams, the potential for fraudulent activity in voice tech grows alongside optimistic economic projections. 

This might give some insight into why consumers still prefer traditional shopping experiences over newer technologies like voice shopping. A new report released by Blis entitled “Omnichannel Consumers Treading New Paths to Purchase” shows that 35% of consumers actually prefer purchasing in-store rather than online. 

A joint report between Voysis and VoiceBot.ai found that when consumers identified their favored shopping method, just under two-thirds of customers choose physical store shopping, followed by just over 25% for web, less than 10% on mobile and just over half a percent on a smart speaker. The report also points to a potential use for voice: enhancing the omnichannel experience to enable online shopping on the web and through mobile devices. Apps can add voice interaction to their traditional click-and-touch interfaces and unlock an entirely new level of convenience and new features. 

Voice shopping may be more convenient and exciting, but a solid shopping experience will win the day for most customers.

The future of voice shopping is happening now

We’re still in the growth stage of the voice shopping market. It’s challenging to predict exactly when platform- and device-agnostic voice searches will be standard on smart speakers, and when smart speakers will become an essential item for the home or office. But the consumer demand is there, and the big tech players like Facebook, Apple, Google and Amazon are going all in — to the tune of $750 trillion dollars in spending over the next decade to research and develop voice recognition to see who can take control of the market. 

Retailers should expect that their customers will begin demanding more (and better!) voice shopping experiences over the next few years as voice search technology continues to grow.

Photo courtesy of iStock Photo


The future of voice shopping relies on retailers to integrate voice shopping as part of an all-inclusive online shopping strategy, with a keen eye on fraud prevention tactics. Talk to Signifyd about your needs with fraud management, chargeback recovery or frictionless commerce.

Chris Martinez

Chris is a content strategist at Signifyd.