Connected Home for the Holidays?

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As a marketer, and more specifically, a marketer that has fully embraced cognitive technology in all of its glory, I’m supposed to wax enthusiastically about digital assistants such as Google Home or the Amazon Echo. Or, I’m supposed to tell you how holiday shopping deals will be infinitely more accessible this year because rather than standing in long lines with the risk of being trampled for the latest electronics that I must have, I can sit in the comfort of my own home, wearing pajamas, and say, “Alexa, find me the best deal on 4K TVs!” But not so fast.

No, digital assistants aren’t some panacea for the challenges retailers and brands face when it comes to holiday shopping or any other kind of shopping, for that matter. They are, however, another platform within an ecosystem that, when considered holistically, can provide huge benefits to users.

Voice Can Simplify Routine Shopping, Not Research

Digital assistants are fantastic when used for simple tasks, like placing a recurring order for common items such as paper towels, toothpaste, or dog food for my adorable yellow lab. In fact, several retailers now offer their products through voice shopping, including Walmart which made hundreds of thousands of items available via voice shopping through Google Assistant as of September, and Best Buy, which opened its store on Amazon Alexa as of November. However, a 4K TV requires a bit more research, which can be both time consuming and awkward via voice. The best deals and the lowest prices aren’t guaranteed which clearly would be an issue for the bargain hungry holiday shopper looking for super high definition that costs $199.99. Visual browsing and clicking is also much faster for certain situations where options like color and size are important. And with TVs, size is important!

Voice Is the Next Frontier, Not the Gateway to Personalization

That leads me to all of the instances of personalization when shopping via a browser can offer what is simply not yet possible with voice enabled platforms. Recommendations, similar products, viewing what other customers purchased, etc. are all valuable prompts to increase basket size and introduce products that customers may not be aware of. Serendipity just isn’t as easy with the linear shopping experience that voice provides. Though, when voice reaches the next frontier of differentiating between individuals within a household, things will begin to get a bit more interesting. In other words, a connected device recognizing my voice and separately, recognizing my daughter’s voice, introduces many advantages for personalization. We just aren’t there yet.

Shoppers Prefer Mainstream Channels, Not Emerging Technologies

Voice-enabled technologies are still in development, and even with retailers making their inventory available via voice, these technologies still haven’t been adopted into mainstream shopping habits and consumer preferences. According to a survey on US consumer shopping behavior published in October by software company IFTTT, most people don’t use many new retail technologies and, in some cases, don’t even know what they are. What’s more, they’re just not comfortable with these technologies yet, and would rather stick to what they know. That same research captured that 82 percent of people said no when asked if they would trust a robot to do their shopping for them. The key is to determine which technologies can be more seamlessly integrated with habitual consumer shopping behavior.

Using Voice as a Tool, Not an All-inclusive Solution

It all comes down to utility and using the right tool for the job. When I speak to clients about AI and the benefits it brings, it’s always within the context of a broader ecosystem rather than one-off tactics. Voice assistants can be incredibly effective tools when used properly, and downright useless when treated as a novelty.

Ultimately, voice is a powerful tool that will continue to evolve and become increasingly intertwined with human routines, but it isn’t quite there yet when it comes to streamlining shopping behaviors. Voice and connected devices remain an important means of enhancing daily experiences and routine behaviors, but are not at the point where we’ll see them overtake the typical ways we approach tasks such as holiday shopping. Marketers looking to capitalize on the vast possibilities of voice shouldn’t lose hope, but shouldn’t bank on voice as an all-encompassing tool, either.

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