Voice commerce: opportunities & challenges

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Voice commerce: opportunities & challenges

Along with visual search, chatbots, and augmented and virtual reality, conversational commerce is a market opportunity expected to grow exponentially over the next few years. According to a CapGemini study released in January 2018, voice assistants will become a dominant mode of consumer interaction over the next three years, with shoppers who use the technology willing to spend 500% more than they currently do via this mode of interaction.


In the U.S., 87% of consumers are aware of textual & vocal agents, and 66% have exploited them in the past. In Europe, 1 out of 5 consumers has already bought through conservational agents. In addition, an OC&C study predicts the voice commerce spendings to reach $40bn by 2022, with 55% households equipped with one smart speaker at least. This outstanding predictions leads us to point out how voice commerce impacts the customer experience, its challenges and its current observed best uses.


Convenience, speed and ease

No more “there is an app for that” but “my virtual agent does that”. In 2017, Google made an aggressive push into voice-assisted commerce by adding shopping capabilities to its Google Home devices, enabling customers to order and pay for goods via voice command with Google Express. A great initiative depicting the fact that ability to do things hands-free (48%) and automation of routine shopping tasks (41%) are the top reasons why users prefer voice assistants over mobile apps and websites.

Indeed, on one hand, shopping tasks can be automated as current usages are mostly dedicated to what we call the “core shopping” (the act of purchasing commodities products): lightbulbs, groceries… Products for which it is easier to offer automated thanks to the constant learning curve about customers’ preferences: the smart assistant is progressively able to suggest look-alike products regarding the previous purchases, or replenishment of an item according to the observed purchase frequency among other capabilities. On the other hand, voice shopping has the advantage to be convenient as it enables to do things hands-free. However, taking the move on voice commerce implies brands to be capable to have a voice that resonates to prompt consumers to discovery — a dimension that needs to be better explored in the next months for retailers.


In the future, voice can enable a greater level of personalization in commerce than what is currently possible. To do so, there is an imperative need to understand and design customers’ journey regarding the targeted group’s needs and expectations: voice assistants are a complementary purchase channel that offers a new source for data collection to understand customers’ habits and behaviors; and thus to offer a higher level of personalization. Especially when customer journeys will move to the purchase of multiple-attribute product categories (ie. in fashion, when it comes to apparel like a tee-shirt, multiple attributes consists in brand, size, color and clothing components, which are to be taken into account in addition to the price), as conversational commerce does not offer visual merchandising systematically.

Thereon, in 2017, Amazon released Echo Show and Echo Spot speakers with screens, so it can display content and might increase the adoption rate of potential reluctant users so far: you can watch video flash briefings and YouTube, see music lyrics, security cameras, photos, weather forecasts, to-do and shopping lists. On the long run, we may think about about an omnichannel strategy where a shopper is looking for a “cherish product” (products you really love and want to share with others like clothes) where a limited choice of pre-selected items could be pushed to the customer on its Echo Show or Spot while he is having his non-visual conversational commerce journey in his car, so he can make its selection once back at home.


Conversational commerce has not delivered its full potential yet. When it comes to e-commerce, the lack of clear security and protection of privacy leads shoppers to give up an initiated transaction. Then communicating clear messages about security features and the use of data will help to mitigate shopper apprehension.

Another challenge consists in improving a high level of accuracy of voice search and voice recognition, and thus abort any frustrating customer experiences where the human is not understood by the vocal assistant. That requires to leverage Natural Language Processing (NLP) by including natural language phrasing into textual content.

Voice search is three times more likely to be local in nature, thus there is also an imperative to optimize its ecommerce platforms for local SEO to ensure that the online store is voice-commerce ready. For instance, consider adding a Q&A page using phrases and keywords that people actually use during their conversation.

Conversational commerce is not a channel to consider sole. It is not only a catalog, it consists in integrated CRM that reconciliate both online and offline data, driving a path to a seamless customer journey.


  • LG featured a smart refrigerator using Alexa that allows order and pay for groceries through voice commerce. Now over 80 LG products integrate with Google Home.
  • Ford and Volkswagen announced their integration of Alexa into their cars to enable voice shopping while driving, transforming the car as a new selling space (ie. in the same way as Cargo which transforms cars into points of sale thanks to vending machines in ridesharing cars).
  • Europe’s largest retailer Carrefour announced it has joined forces with Google to create an online voice assistant called “Lea” as part of the retailer’s digital expansion. It can add ingredients to a customer’s shopping basket based on a recipe, as well as providing information about nearby stores.
  • Coty created a visual skill for Amazon’s Echo Show to use voice commands to shop for hair and makeup products. The “Let’s Get Ready” skill can display more than 2,000 hair and makeup combinations and let viewers add products to an Alexa shopping list.

Voice offers a unique opportunity for business to deliver faster, easier and more convenient experiences. The investment in voice technology must begin with a deep understanding of customer needs and expectations and how voice commerce can augment or amplify existing omnichannel capabilities to provide differentiated value. Because the role of voice technology is to drive a secure, trusted experience that delivers tangible benefit.


Written by Sophie Ducornet, Consultant at B.D.C. US