12 months ago voice search was the future. Then it wasn’t. Then it was again. Now it appears it’s all hype. I’m struggling to keep up!

The latest “voice is over-hyped” claim came in the form of underwhelming stats about the number of commerce-related queries that are being performed on a voice-enabled device. A rather dismal 2% of people who own Amazon Alexa devices have used them to make a voice purchase, according to Amazon’s own data.

Cue the digital industry jumping on the stats as proof that voice is not the game-changing technology some believe it to be, that it’s a purely navigational technology and doesn’t represent incremental search queries.

As is often the case, the digital advertising industry and its numerous commenters latch onto a single data point and use it to form a belief or to justify a previously held position.

There’s no doubting that voice technology and its current manifestations do not provide an experience well-suited to our current purchase behaviour. Alexa reading out a product title verbatim, including all parameters and parentheses, is a terrible user experience. And the lack of visuals on a product means that it’s highly unlikely a purchase will be made based on purely on a voice search.

alexa, buy all the things

But as technology and consumer behaviour changes, so too will the impact of voice controls on the ecommerce sector.

Along with the Echo Show, the latest versions of Google’s Home assistants come with a screen. All of a sudden a garbled reading of product options becomes a selection of visual options, likely powered in time by Google’s already-dominant shopping product. This fundamentally changes the customer experience with regards to voice-activated assistants.

From a consumer behaviour perspective, voice will increasingly be how we control technology: everything from light switches to washing machines and televisions. As this becomes the norm, buying using our voice will become less of an alien concept.

My children are a perfect example of how this change arises. They expect everything to be touch screen. Why wouldn’t they? Apple brought touch technology to the masses with their iPhone release in 2007, a mere 11 years ago to some of us. But to a generation of children it’s all they’ve ever known. In 10-15 years when they’re consumers and have grown up with voice activated technology, using voice to place an order will just be second nature.

And the change is not just linked to voice technology. To date there have been an estimated 600,000 Amazon Dash buttons sold worldwide. It’s one of the strangest modern technologies, when you consider it: a button you press solely to order some more washing powder, or nappies, or even Lego! It’s highly impractical too. To fully adopt it would require a wall of your house to be covered in these things! But that’s not the point.

Dash buttons are an exercise by Amazon in altering consumer behaviour. Don’t add that item to your shopping list to buy alongside your other weekly items, buy it now, delivered tomorrow via your Amazon Prime account. Amazon wants to promote immediacy, because it can facilitate it. The Dash button is its attempt to move consumer behaviour in that direction, and voice is the next step.  Rather than pushing your Dash button you can just ask Alexa to order it for you.

So what does voice really mean for commerce?

Voice means the same for commerce as it does for every other industry: a fundamental shift in how people surface information and interact with your business and products.

How this information is presented to them and how you use voice on a transactional level will differ from company to company, but as user behaviour changes, you need to move with it or risk being left behind.

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