Hands-free home retail: Will Amazon and Google really revolutionise the way we shop?

Photo by Jonas Lee on Unsplash

Last month Google launched their new virtual assistant technology ‘Google Home’ in the UK, in response to Amazon’s Alexa and Echo technology. According to the latest adverts, this tech allows you to ‘stay in the moment’ rather than staring at your smart phone and ignoring your loved ones. Touted in some quarters as a virtual ‘AI Butler’ – could these new technologies really revolutionise the way we approach home retail or are they just another flash in the high-tech pan?

Voice search is on the Rise

Speaking to Retail Week, Oli Meakin, Chief Executive of Maplin says that he can’t call a winner as far as the tech giants are concerned. Although Amazon brought out their voice-activated ‘Echo’ device last year, he suggests that you wouldn’t want to bet against either Amazon or Google when it comes to their respective ventures in smart home technology:

“It is early days for voice technology but it is an area that is quickly gaining traction”

The Amazon Echo device uses Amazon’s Alexa voice recognition technology to enable users to ask questions and add items to their Amazon shopping list – and Google are now scrambling to catch up with the launch of their new Home device which is backed by Google Assist technology. In the US, Google Home users can already order products from a selection of retailers, with more being added to the list and it’s expected that this will soon be the case in the UK as well – but will it catch on?

Whatever the technology, the facts are that voice search is on the increase. In 2015, voice searches went from zero to more than 10% of searches made, and this is steadily increasing year on year. Last year Google reported that 20% of searches made by Android users in the US were conducted via voice search.

Voice Search for Retail

So what does this technology mean for retailers?

Remember a while back we blogged about the Amazon dash smart buttons for reordering domestic products that could be placed around the home? It seemed like a great idea at the time (unless your kids get hold of them!) But the capacity of voice technology to enable users to make purchases in context and ‘in the moment’ is one step beyond that. It takes home shopping to the next level – reducing the chore factor of requesting a refill or some other essential product to zero.

Rick Murray, Managing Director of digital consultants, Accenture suggests that this immediate level of convenience when selecting familiar products will mean that the grocery sector is most likely to feel the impact of this new technology first:

“Grocery is the most obvious area for disruption, both for mundane commodity items but also for inspiration. Imagine if I add things to a shopping list or even tell the voice device what sort of food products I’m thinking about at that point, and then in the future my voice device buys them for me or reminds me of them when I next walk into a supermarket by linking to my mobile app.”

But for other retailers, the benefits are less obvious. Sean McKee, Director of eCommerce at shoe retailer, Schuh is not convinced. He has this way down on his list of priorities for further investment or consideration:

“It will be a game-changer if it dovetails in a way that makes sense with artificial intelligence and helps us eliminate friction in the customer journey – but at the minute voice is not a good place to buy anything.”

But is he being too dismissive? Head of Global Technology at Planet retail, Miya Knights, suggests that some retailers will have to adapt their digital offer and target a specific audience, in order to feel the benefits:

“We know that shoppers will not go past the second or third page of a Google search result – voice will be like that on steroids.

“Retailers need to be thinking now about the technology that younger generations have been brought up understanding and experiencing. I might be nervous about using voice ordering technology, but my children will be completely fine with it.”

Research by Accenture seems to support this suggestion. Currently 38% of millennials say they are willing to use voice-activated ordering to make purchases, with some 10% of them having used it already.

Like the VR and AR technology that we reported on last week, retailers can’t afford to take their eye off the ball when it comes to the applications of voice technology and the types of shopper that might use it – this could be another trend that is set to take retailers by surprise – is your business ready for voice technology?