Niraj Ruparel
Jun 15, 2021

How voice AI is transforming the ecommerce space

Tech that allows online shoppers to interact with a voice assistant as naturally as they would with an in-store expert is closer to reality than you might think, a voice expert from GroupM writes.


According to a global study conducted by Wunderman Thompson in 2020, 27% of online shoppers have used or currently use voice assistants to make purchases. In the US and the UK alone, it's estimated that voice-based shopping will gross over $40 billion by 2022—driven primarily by Amazon’s smart speakers. This essentially means consumer spending through voice assistants is expected to account for a sizeable market share of 18%. 

Wondering how voice search can command such a massive presence in such a short duration? Well, the answer simply lies in human nature. On a typical day, an average person speaks about 16,000 words. With increasing proliferation of smart speakers and devices such as the Amazon Fire TV Stick, the search for entertainment is already witnessing a massive shift towards voice. 

In the post-pandemic era, according to Forrester Research, ecommerce sales have grown by 20% in the US, and digital is now the default way of shopping for most millennials. A Deloitte report reveals that only 12% of customers are expected to shop in an enclosed mall after the pandemic, as compared to 24% earlier. Health and safety concerns on the part of customers have fuelled a demand for contactless shopping options, which is not going anywhere in 2021. 

In an interesting use case we worked on, Mondelez used an Amazon Alexa skill to reach out to Cadbury Dairy Milk Silk consumers within the confines of their homes, by helping them with creative ideas to surprise their loved ones for Valentine’s Day. 

Customers simply had to say, “Alexa, tell me ways to go far for love” and Alexa would start dishing out innovative ideas. After three heartwarming recommendations, the skill would take it a notch further: Alexa would ask the user if they wanted to add a Cadbury Dairy Milk Silk Heart Pop chocolate bar to their Amazon shopping cart. If the user said yes, Alexa would first narrate the item description and cost and then go ahead and add it to their cart.

This was the first such instance in India where a brand could directly enable their customers to add their product to their shopping cart from within an Alexa skill. Such frictionless voice-ordering paved the way for an all-new voice commerce experience that brands had not seen before. To top it off, the skill asked the users if they wanted to get reminded in the runup to the Valentine’s Day. For all those who opted in, they would receive periodic reminders on Alexa as Valentine’s Day was approaching. 

JioMart, one of India's largest ecommerce grocery platforms, has put in place one of the earliest implementations of voice AI. The multilingual voice assistant enables better search, discovery and purchase on the JioMart app. Over 1 million end customers have used the AI assistant already, with a 50% increase in conversion rate from browsing to purchase. 

Effective and efficient voice-based commerce is poised to transform the online shopping experience globally. Voice AI will allow online shoppers to speak as freely to a voice assistant as they would with an in-store expert in order to search for relevant products, get recommendations and guidance, filter and sort results based on their preferences, compare options, get specific product information, and find matching or complementary products to complete their shopping experience. Shoppers would love to be able to state multiple instructions simultaneously to their ecommerce app and let it find the most relevant products, just as a human would physically. With these AI capabilities, brands can delight customers and thus enhance conversion rates, improve sales figures and help acquire new users.  

Ecommerce leaders need to keep in mind these four key customer-experience trends this year: 

  1. Retailers, more than ever, need to maintain an omnichannel presence, not just for advertising, but to drive end-to-end commerce across these touchpoints. 
  2. The seamless and interactive experience offered by voice, coupled with a growth in voice-assistant usage, has been a key driver for voice-based commerce. 
  3. Personalization, when done right, not only boosts customer engagement, but helps the customer save time and effort. 
  4. The pandemic has fuelled a demand for contactless shopping that will continue through this year. 

Conversational AI is the crucial piece of the puzzle that can help ecommerce brands deliver on all these fronts and stay ahead of the curve in 2021 and beyond. 

Niraj Ruparel is head of mobile and emerging tech with GroupM India and head of voice at WPP India. He was named to Campaign Asia-Pacific's 40 Under 40 in 2019.

Campaign Asia

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