Alexa, Order Me Browserless Commerce

My five-year-old son recently uttered the phrase, “Why don’t you just ask Siri?” This was in response to my wife asking me a question. Even though my answer, “because I am smarter than Siri” wasn’t fully accepted, something occurred to me. This is his normal.

Voice assistants appear to be poised to be the next big thing. After all, outside of emojis, speech is the most natural way to communicate. While assistants like Siri have been adopted for things like answering questions, texting, or setting reminders, the commerce capabilities are emerging. Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Alibaba are all in, or getting into, the voice assistant market. While home voice controlled devices are still new, consumers are showing their willingness to adopt this evolving technology.

What does this mean for online retailers and brands that are accustomed to consumers navigating browsers rather than barking voice commands?

Browserless commerce is still in its infancy. No one really knows what it will look like for sure. I have no doubt that ordering items in bulk, such as diapers and wipes together, will become reality sooner than later. Once that’s tackled, what’s next?

How do Brands and Retailers Fit Into Browserless Commerce?

The first company people think of when it comes to voice ordering is Amazon – and with good reason. But if voice control becomes a major part of people’s daily experience, how will traditional online retailers adapt? Will retailers and brands be forced to sell on Amazon or Jet to have product exposure to customers? Will they be able to create their own browserless commerce “site,” and if so, how will consumers navigate it? Or will more marketplace competitors spring up to compete with Amazon, Jet and eBay?

There are hurdles. Comparison shoppers, and those that use reviews, aren’t necessarily going to trust the voice assistant to deliver the right product at the right price. This may be less of an issue for those growing up with these tools. But for today’s shoppers, there needs to be a high level of trust in the device and company.

And how will we browse the internet via voice? Can the voice assistant search reviews and read them to us when we are shopping for a refrigerator? What does this do to advertisements and retargeting strategies?

And more importantly, who controls all of this data, and what will they do with it? If browserless shopping and voice search becomes an everyday reality, could this lead to the resurgence of offline marketing, like direct mail? Think about it. The data needed by retailers to narrowly target customers will be owned by whatever company is collecting it through their device. Retailers could easily purchase/rent targeted data from these companies (hello revenue stream) for direct-mail or other types of advertising techniques. Theoretically, they would even be able to fine-tune the types of customers they are targeting, from location, lifestyle, and real-time browse history, just to name a few.

What Does This Mean for Brand Value?

Hey voice assistant, order me glass cleaner. Does it send me Windex or generic glass cleaner? Interestingly, voice-assisted shopping could erode name brands. Voice-ordering glass cleaner from Amazon means you may be automatically shipped a private label brand versus a name brand. Or what if a user uses laundry detergent for sensitive skin, but tires of the price of the brand name “free and clear” detergent. If they order another detergent for sensitive skin, who makes that decision of which one to send?

As this way of shopping becomes more common, this issue has the potential to expand even further than just these examples. How will retailers react? Will the consumer care, and if so, should they? Remember, older generations might have stronger brand loyalties, but consumers growing up when this is the norm may not. Ordering name brands may be the break from the norm, especially if they are more expensive.

What about searching for other goods, like clothing? How can the browserless experience incorporate visuals? A spoken command could open a synced TV (through a device like a fire stick) or the Echo Show. This would allow consumers to visually browse products initiated by speech. Your voice could control the navigation, allowing you to choose the brand name product you want. This would allow a site, such as Amazon, to avoid alienating its marketplace sellers, continue to collect ad revenue for higher displayed products, and provide the consumer with a transparent purchase process.

Could Households Be Branded?

Voice assistants are designed to make life “easier.” But connectivity to other electronics in the house is what will truly make life easier.  We may be looking at a future where homes are dominated by one brand, like Amazon, Google, or Apple. In this situation, you may have a Google Home device synced with your Nest and Chromecast devices. Intermixing Amazon or Apple products could potentially cause a disruption to your user-experience, although a little competitive partnership will almost certainly be required. We may see a day where there are branded homes, with all household devices being synced and owned by one main company.

If there is consolidation around one company’s devices, will these companies go on a spending spree to purchase complimentary systems to integrate, like alarm, appliance, or heating and air to provide an all-in-one home solution? I don’t think this will be the case, as fostering integrations seems the likeliest path to consumer adoption, but I wouldn’t be surprised to one day see companies experiment with a one-stop home connectivity approach.

While I may be living through the start of the spoken assistance era, my children will grow up with browserless commerce as the norm. Shopping via voice may seem unnatural for most for us, but it won’t be for them. I look back on pay phones as an example of something that was common when I grew up. Now, if I see one, I am startled at the sight. Ten years from now, my children may look back at smartphones in the same light.

Greg Zakowicz is Senior Commerce Marketing Analyst at Bronto Software

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