Shoppers are Aware of Amazon’s Alexa, But is Alexa Aware of Your Brands?

In Blog, E-commerce, Technology Trends by Courtney Jane Acuff

In homes across the country, there are subtle shifts in shopping behavior taking place. Digittimes estimates that in 2017 alone, Amazon expects to ship over 10M Alexa devices, while Google’s Home device is entering the race as a strong contender. Regardless of the chosen device, by 2020, the Rain Agency estimates that over 1.8B consumers will use voice activated devices.

When you think about the biggest change that is likely to alter your consumers’ shopping behaviors, does voice search and discovery make it to the top of the list?

If it doesn’t, it should.

The Extreme Growth of Voice Technology

Voice technology is an “innovation” that Retailers, E-tailers and all brands, including Consumer Packaged Goods,  need to plan for and execute tests against, NOW!

Accenture’s research found that 38% of millennials are willing to try voice-activated ordering (10% have already used it) but overall, nearly ⅕ of the U.S. population will use a voice assistant at least once a month this year. That is roughly 60.5 million people according to eMarketer. Consider too that this technology is not limited to millennials. As it evolves, older Americans (or their children who are interested in teaching them new technologies that can help as they grow older) will likely use voice and other smart home devices to do everything from calling 911 in an emergency to keeping home energy costs down. Wake commands and the little microphone icon are increasingly becoming part of everyday life.

Yes, the market may still be maturing, but it maturing fast and furiously.

According to My Total Retail, Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant listens and responds to over 2 billion commands a week and “Ask Alexa” is a common household refrain with 4% of U.S. households stating they have an Amazon Alexa device. Further, 20% of Google searches on Android devices are done by voice.

To harness the power of voice, sellers of goods (that’s you retailers and e-tailers) must have structured product content at their fingertips.

45% of Amazon Alexa users have already added an item to their shopping cart using voice technology.  In order for this to work, Alexa relies on structured data, and the filtering and sorting of information in order to pull your past purchases. Remember, Amazon, Siri, and Google all use different algorithms and will pull different assortments, based on the same voice search.  If a retailer doesn’t have a fully digitized product catalog that is accessible via API and used to power e-commerce transactions, they cannot catch-up to their competitors.

Last year, 80 million smart home devices, of which the majority were devices like Google Home and Amazon Alexa, were delivered worldwide, a 64% increase from 2015, according to IHS Markit. In order for these devices to actually be useful and valuable to the end consumer, with regard to the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) market, the applications and skills kits used to power them must be fueled by structured data. Data comprised of product content attributes that number in the hundreds to ensure the richness needed to search, sort and filter to provide the right responses or actions in a consumer’s cart. Consumers may shop according to brand, color, items per package, and even specialty options like gluten or sugar free.

So CPG brands of all portfolio sizes also have a role to play. If they don’t have verified content flowing to retailers and e-tailers, then their products cannot be reordered or discovered based upon their product attributes,  ingredients or certifications

The grocery wars are heating up and voice technology is a big part of the game plan for both Amazon and Walmart. Just last week, Walmart announced that it is joining forces with Google, and specifically Google Assistant, to offer voice shopping on hundreds of thousands of items beginning in late September. “Voice shopping is becoming a more important part of everyday shopping behavior,” said Marc Lore, CEO of Walmart’s U.S. e-commerce business.

On the other hand, Amazon and its Echo devices have been enabling voice shopping since 2014. With over 51% of Amazon Echo device users sharing that they keep their Alexa in the kitchen, it’s no wonder that Walmart chose to partner with Google as a means of fast tracking its own foray into voice. According to RBC Capital Markets, Alexa could become a $10 billion business by 2020, largely due to its ability to power voice-driven shopping.

When you run out of a household staple or realize that you’re about to, how easy is it for you to reach for or find a piece of paper or pen to write down the item you need to purchase? Then, how often do you remember the piece of paper when you go to the store or get online to place your order? The use of a voice assistant or smart device to simply speak the item you need, however, couldn’t be easier.

Retailers and E-tailers who begin to create their own integrations, now, will be the retailer that is able to turn a shopper into a buyer at the exact moment they are in need. Peapod, the leading online grocer, recently did just that with the launch of their Alexa Skills Kit – “Ask Peapod.” Their Alexa implementation uses Peapod’s standard engine algorithm (powered by ItemMaster’s data attributes) and their own API’s to enable hands-free ordering of “immediate, in-the-moment additions to shoppers’ weekly grocery carts.”

Inspire New Purchases with Voice Discovery

Voice discovery is also an area of unique opportunity. Voice enabled grocery implementations like “Ask Peapod” for Alexa serve to help shoppers reorder their last cart items or past purchases, but the area of even more dynamic engagement is the ability to inspire purchases. Imagine that you’re hosting a dinner party and several guest RSVP’d with off-hand comments about hoping the menu includes the latest dishes to satisfy the newest diet fad…seriously? With voice discovery, it’s no problem. Meal planning and recipe modification can be powered by retailers that personalize according to dietary restrictions or based on items they tend to buy often. Further, the step-by-step recipe tutorial is a natural extension of the experience that can be offered by a retailer or manufacturer brand. Building loyalty today requires more and more engagement, engagement that is an incredibly natural extension of voice enabled technology.

Personal Shopping for Your Consumer

Speaking of loyalty, that is another area ripe for A/B testing. Using voice technology and loyalty programs to provide relevant search results or deals is an easy way for a Retailer or E-tailer to become a personal shopper for the household via a smart home device. This is again an area that is only made feasible by having the core data foundation in place. It’s unrealistic that a shopper is going to have the attention span (or patience) to listen through a long list of suggestions or products found. Personalization here is of utmost importance in creating a truly valuable experience that will keep shoppers coming back.

If your assortment isn’t already structured for voice technology, your brand’s extinction event is closer than it appears. Voice search doesn’t just occur in the kitchens of homes across the country. Voice search can happen in the aisles of your supermarket, while a consumer is traveling to your store, or anywhere and everywhere your consumer exists.

The time for future-proofing your brand is here. And structuring your content for every environment, every consumer, all the time, is the only answer.