Next Big Thing: Conversational Commerce

A consortium of the MIT Auto-ID Lab, Capgemini Consulting, and Intel just released a study on the industry implications of voice-driven commerce.

The study can be summarized in a phrase; from home-based smart speakers to smartphones, this will be big. Large. A next digital wave that will lift some boats and swamp plenty of others.

You can access the 32-page white paper in Capgemini's article "Time to Talk."

You’ll also want to study the undercurrent of this wave. The consumer behavior transitions below the water line of Alexa and “Hey Google.”

Because this is—and will be—a consumer-driven phenomenon. A convenience-driven, ease-of-use-driven, love-the-results phenomenon that is now running fast from lower left to upper right.

In addition to the research work with MIT and Intel, Capgemini also last year pursued extensive consumer research on voice and conversational commerce. Attitudes, behaviors, usage. Five thousand respondents, four nations (USA, UK, France, Germany).  Broad surveys and small focus groups.

What they found tells us that we in retail—and especially those of us in retail technology—all better damn well get ready. Highlights:

We’re Entering a Post-QWERTY, Post-Tap and -Touch World.

  • Voice assistants will become the dominant mode of consumer interactionin three years. Twenty-four percent (24%) of respondents now prefer to use voice assistants instead of a mobile app or website. That preference is expected to grow to 40% by mid-2020.

Why? Compared to website and apps, voice assistance is all about convenience (noted by 51% of respondents), hands-free multi-tasking (48%), and the automation of routine shopping tasks (41%).

  • 51% of respondents are now using voice assistants—and 41% are using them via smartphones.
  • Slightly more than a third of all respondents have already used voice assistants for a retail purpose. Thirty-six percent (36%) have accessed customer service or brand support; 35% have purchased products (ranging from groceries to home care and apparel), and 34% have ordered a meal for home delivery.
  • There is significant interest in more retail usage among today’s users of voice assistants. More than half (51%) expressed interest in purchasing consumer electronics; 45% expressed interest in purchasing groceries, food, and beverage.  Deliver-to-home meals?  Fifty-six percent (56%.)

Do the math:  in FMCG, that’s—right now—an available market of roughly 23% of the population.

  • In three years, active users of voice assistants expect 18% of their total expenditures to take place via a voice assistant. In addition, many of today’s non-users expect to become users—and transact an average of 7% of total expenditures via voice assistant by 2020.

In both cases, it’s expected that the revenues transacted through voice assistants will come from store top-lines—and thus accelerate brick-and-mortar’s transition to unified commerce fulfillment centers.

  • Demographically, the largest category of users falls in the 33-45 year age bracket. The largest category of voice assistant spenders—those who purchase goods or services—is found in the 22-32 age bracket.
  • Top-three features for voice assistants? Most important (82% of respondents): fast and accurate replies. The understanding of diction and accent (81% of respondents) a close second. Third (75%), the relevancy of recommendations.
  • Other usage models? Well, in three years, more than a third of respondents indicated a willingness to use a personalized voice assistant to replace human interaction in customer support/call centers (38%) or the store (35%).  Why?  Faster, less stressful, consistently accurate, and—very important—support that’s always at the shopper’s beckon call.

Most important: Conversational Commerce will yield concrete benefits for retailers and brands.

  • In return for receiving a good voice assistant experience, respondents indicated that they would be willing to increase their brand spend by an average of 5%. For those who are users today, that number is 8%. In a retail world increasingly grasping for share of wallet, that’s a significant number.
  • What’s a good voice assistant experience? Well, Capgemini looked across the decision journey, and found that 49% of respondents would like to use voice assistants to check delivery status; 45% to make a shopping list; 42% to search for products and services.

Find the full study here in Capgemini's article "Conversational Commerce: Why consumers are embracing voice assistants in their lives."

In the meantime: get this on your key strategies list.


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Jon Stine

About Jon Stine

Global Director Retail Sales at Intel. Jon Stine leads Intel’s global sales and strategy for the retail, hospitality, and consumer goods industry sectors. His CV includes leadership of North American retail consulting practice for Cisco Systems, and a prior stint at Intel, where he founded the company’s sales and marketing focus on the retail industry. His perspective on technology’s value in the industry has been shaped by advisory and project engagements in the United States, across the European Union, and in India, Australia, and the People’s Republic of China, and from 15 years of executive sales and marketing experience in the U.S. apparel industry, working with the nation’s leading department and specialty stores. At Intel, his current areas of research and engagement include the future of the store in this new digital age; how and where retailers turn data into competitive advantage; the role of technology within the new cross-channel shopper journey, and, the critical business and IT capabilities that industry success will demand going forward.