How voice AI is the game changer for the 3 Rs – reviews, returns and restocking

Despite the belief voice-controlled devices are only used to ‘ask Alexa’ what the weather will be like or to play a song, two in ten (20%) of device owners in the UK are already using them to connect with retailers.

Voice AI is undoubtedly changing the way we shop and it will continue to do so, with voice-controlled device shopping expected to triple this year. However, before voice purchases start becoming the norm, we will see the technology reinvent the three Rs in retail – reviews, returns and restocking.

I’ve witnessed the rise of mobile and omnichannel retail first-hand. Now, I believe we’ve reached another pivotal moment in retail in which voice-controlled AI will reshape marketing and how we interact with technology. Predictive retail is already becoming a reality - we are already seeing it happen in the US, with Walmart and Google teaming up to enable Google Assistants to dig into customer purchase history. With the rise of voice-controlled devices used for retail, these are three areas where I see voice transforming shopping in 2018:

Reviews

Voice AI still feels fresh, but in the coming year, brands must take advantage of the increasing number of households with voice assistants by making product reviews and user feedback more immediate and engaging. If prompted at the right moment, voice is a much easier channel for customers to share feedback on a product. For example, if they order a moisturiser from Birchbox but haven’t thought to review their purchase online the voice assistant could ask (once it knows it’s been delivered through delivery insights): “How would you rate your Balance Me Wonder Eye Cream from Birchbox out of five stars?” What’s in it for the customer? As a result of a quick question, the brands capturing customer insights correctly will be able to offer more accurate recommendations as a result.

Returns

Online shopping is a part of modern life, and so are returns. Some retailers, like UK-based Enclothed have even built free returns into their business model. Online returns can seem like a hassle and consumers have little tolerance for complicated returns.

Over a third (35%) of KPMG respondents stated that convenience was the most important factor for returns. It’s not rocket science to understand; as customers shop in more convenient ways for them, they also expect choice and convenience when it comes to returns. The option to initiate returns via voice-controlled devices will streamline the process and improve customer perceptions of brands.

Timely communication is an important part of the returns process. Our study revealed 6 in 10 people (61%) expected fast and direct communications following purchase as a standard. With voice, brands can automate part of the returns process; for example, three days after customers receive their order, Google Assistant can remind customers to send back any items they don’t want. At this point, in addition to sending a code via WhatsApp (or SMS) to use at a returns kiosk in-store (or returns forms to your email or printer for customers that prefer that approach), voice applications can accurately capture which items you’re returning and why.

Restocking

Voice is an engaging communication channel because it’s personable and immediate. However, it could also become highly intrusive if marketers overstep boundaries by pushing irrelevant messages or interrupting customers at inconvenient times. Therefore, in order to get it right, brands must avoid mass advertising. Instead they should only recommend the products they know their customers have already bought and rated highly—particularly if they’re everyday essentials. So, if a supermarket retailer knows, from its data, that a customer buys a box of PG Tips every two months, it can send the customer a voice note reminder to reorder.

However, when it comes to ‘browsing’, shopping can become complicated when you can’t see the product. As there are no shelves or product catalogues to browse when voice shopping, marketers will likely create shopping experiences that integrate voice and visual interfaces, like the Amazon Echo Show or Google Home connected with a TV via Chromecast. Brands will need to think about integrating voice into their brand experience online, on mobile, in messaging apps and in stores to deliver a seamless experience.

Voice will distinctively change how we shop and brands can get ahead of customer behaviour changes and increasing expectations. However, many brands are still a long way from offering refined voice services. While the race to make voice shopping the norm quickens, it is essential brands walk before they can run and get their approach right. Only then will they be able to build strong, meaningful relationships (and loyalty) with customers.

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