4 ways your voice will transform your future shop

By Katie Baron 5 December 2017
Voice shopping is coming. Imagine: Getty/izusek

Voice shopping is about so much more than Amazon's Alexa.

Trying to squeeze a meaningful conversation out of Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa (she’s the one that lives in its smart Echo speaker) may sometimes seem as satisfying as a service station sandwich.

But bear with her because her development and the dawn of the ‘smart’ era at large – that’s cars, homes, clothes, furniture – promises a tantalisingly interactive, interconnected and maybe even more edifying world.

At the centre of all this is your voice.

While devices, systems, and things will be talking to one another, we’ll be talking directly to them.

Right now, our conversations are largely still happening via smart screens or speakers (like Amazon Echo and Google Home) or the wearable tech gunning to make connections on our behalf.

But these touch-points are expanding, and the volatile landscape of voice (next year around 30% of consumers’ tech interactions will involve smart ‘conversations’) means retailers are already re-thinking your shop, where, and how they’ll interact with you.

Here are four ways voice command is adding extra oomph in retail… 

The walls are alive!

Embedding voice-command tech into real life shops keeps ‘voice tech’ at the heart of the brand experience.

Amazon’s current Christmas pop-up with Calvin Klein in NYC features its smart Echo speakers in fitting rooms, allowing shoppers to ask questions about product, control lighting and play music, as if talking to a mate.

Additionally, it’s installed ‘Echo Show’ (that’s Echo and a video screen) in its lounge areas to link shopper up with its sister pop-up in LA.

Think of it as a way to encourage communal fun, rather than the sorry driver of bland shopfloor activities.

Soon this kind of tech will be entirely invisible, literally embedding the tech into the architecture, without the need for clunky screens.

Mixing up new kinds of service

Showing what Alexa can do on a good day is whisky brand Johnnie Walker’s collaboration on a voice app (aka a ‘skill’) for the Echo that educates people about whisky and gives guidance on making cocktails.

You can buy whatever products you need from integrated e-commerce partners or ask for nearby stockists.

Mexican tequila brand Patrón is similarly jumping into the action by providing recipe and pairing suggestions through Alexa’s Cocktail Lab skill, another attempt to make itself indispensable in the big ‘help me make a great cocktail’ picture.

The message to brands is simple: be in it to win it.

Getting emotional

Voice will also help retailers seduce you throughout the search and shop process.

Chinese software Emotibot allows smart home hubs and digital customer service agents (like those you get on online shopping sites) to understand your emotions and therefore keep the conversation going in as satisfying, and as lucrative, a manner as possible.

Where facial recognition, text analysis and movement sensors all help our digital assistants ‘get’ us, voice remains the most telling of all traits, revealing exactly where your head is at.

This means, in the future, your tone of voice will be used to prompt a bot when it’s best to change the flavour of its language, the products it’s offering, or even to chuck in a discount.

Braggi Dash Wireless Headphones

Homing in on hearables

Finally, as we embrace life on the move, so-called hearables’ will become the tech to watch.

Virtual assistants will become available through headphones and other discreet in-ear devices – constant companions delivering immediate information, unlocking services such as real-time fashion advice in store.

Consider asking this ‘AI PA’ (which knows the entire product catalogue of the store you’re in, obviously) to search for what would go best with the boots you’ve just bought, or have stashed in your e-wish lists.

Bragi’s hearables can already use Alexa to let you order a Starbucks, while Google says its Voice Assistant will include built-in transactions by the end of 2018.

In this future your voice will be your ID – and your shop will be personal, personable and more conversational than ever.