Report: Consumers Warm to Voice, Demand More Integrated Experiences

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Shopping with voice devices like Amazon’s Echo and Google Home is on the rise, as consumers find new ways to research products, add items to their shopping lists, track packages, and reorder products all without lifting a finger. According to a new report by the customer experience platform Narvar, released just this morning, both voice device ownership and voice shopping activity have nearly doubled in the past six months, with 17% of shoppers now owning a voice device and 42% of those device owners using voice to shop.

It’s not just millennials going all in on voice, either. On the contrary, older shoppers may be catching on quickest. According to Narvar’s survey of 1,543 U.S. online shoppers, 43% of voice device owners between the ages of 45 and 60 use their devices to shop, compared to 38% between the ages of 30 and 44 and 15% of those under 30.

“Voice recognition technology is changing retail,” says Harsh Jawharkar, vice president, head of marketing and partnerships at Narvar. “Consumers who don’t own a voice device are using the voice-activated virtual assistant on their phones, like Siri, for shopping activities at a fairly high rate as well.”

Although the most popular use case for voice devices in Narvar’s survey was researching purchases, nearly one-third of shoppers also said they use voice to track packages.

Amazon Echo was by far the most popular device in Narvar’s survey, coming in at 71% market share compared to Google Home’s 22%. Regardless of the device, Narvar’s survey found that voice device owners are more likely to opt-in to subscription services and automatic reordering than people who do not own voice devices—a factor that retailers should take into consideration as they look at how to leverage the strengths of voice shopping and their own in-house retention programs.

“Our data shows that consumers are using voice devices throughout the path to purchase, from discovering new products to checking package status to reordering their favorite products,” Jawharkar says. “As voice shopping goes mainstream, retailers need to get ahead of the trend and experiment with new ways to care for customers and build the relationship using voice across the entire shopping journey.”

Outside of the rising use of voice devices, Narvar found that consumers are most loyal to retailers that keep them updated. Eighty-three percent of shoppers said they expect regular communication about their online purchases, whether that’s via voice, chatbot, email, or text, and 53% will not purchase something if they don’t know when it will arrive.

Reading through the findings in Narvar’s report, Jawharkar says he hopes retailers gain an understanding of the role that customer experience needs to play in this age of infinite choice. That means prioritizing communications throughout a shopper’s experience, making return policies as clear as possible, and finding ways to use chatbots, voice devices, and other technologies to create better shopping experiences. Jawharkar says these are major ways brands can care for customers and ultimately build loyalty and trust.

“Retailers that prioritize customer care and find new ways to connect with shoppers in transparent and authentic ways will ultimately succeed,” he says.

Automated chatbots constitute one method retailers are using to connect with customers. Narvar’s survey found that chatbot use is “nascent but growing.” Twenty-nine percent of consumers say they use or plan to use chatbots to shop online, with the most important feature being that bots are available all the time.

It should come as no surprise that the increase in favorable views of chatbots comes as bots themselves are getting more advanced. As bots understand more commands and respond to queries with more accuracy, the percentage of shoppers willing to communicate with brands via chat and messaging apps will increase.

Future adoption of emerging technologies—including connected hardware, augmented reality (AR) apps, and virtual reality headsets—by retailers and shoppers also hinges on continued improvements of those products. Jawharkar says there have already been some compelling use cases that have accelerated consumer adoption of new technologies, like Sephora’s Virtual Artist, which uses augmented reality to let shoppers try on makeup, and Houzz’s View in My Room.

“Technology is quickly changing the way shoppers and brands connect,” Jawharkar says. “As consumers become even more comfortable with these technologies, successful retailers will need to understand how to balance both tech and human interactions to create experiences shoppers love.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.