Have you got a voice assistant speaker in your home? Or do you use voice commands to search the internet on your phone? You’re not alone. 48% of general web searches are done by voice. And now more and more of us are using our voices to shop online. Welcome to voice commerce.
Voice commerce means speaking aloud to order goods online instead of typing or buying in store. It can happen using the voice recognition feature of a smartphone or smart speaker assistant like Amazon Echo or Google Home Assistant. Up until now, voice commerce has only focused on reordering fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) from Amazon and other select sites, but experts say the future of voice commerce holds much more.
Here’s how you can prepare your eCommerce website to handle voice commerce:
If you’ve got an eCommerce website, no doubt you consistently spend a good amount of time on SEO, increasing your chances of people finding you on search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Bing. Voice searches work a bit differently. Whereas someone might type “buy dry ice” into a search bar, they’re more likely to search by voice with the phrase “Where can I get some dry ice near here?”.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is increasingly built into many voice commerce systems, and they’re getting better at Natural Language Processing (NLP) every year, able to recognise better what people really mean when they speak in fluid, natural language. But you still have to do your part by optimising your website for keywords and phrases used in voice searches.
This includes, for example, presenting your content in the form of an answer to a question, and adding geolocation information to respond to people looking for products “near me”. Also, don’t only use Google for your keyword research; focus on optimising for Bing because Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Amazon’s Alexa all use Bing for their searches.
Bear in mind, too, that while people can browse search engines visually, scrolling down through different options, voice searches work differently, especially when done on a smart speaker and not on a mobile. The search engine normally returns only the first, and most relevant, search result. This is why SEO is so important for voice commerce – only those who are on the very top of the Search Engine Results Page (SERP), and/or featured in Google snippets, will benefit.
Have you ever noticed how you’re more drawn to click on certain results on Google more than others? It’s almost always the ones with lots of clear information right there on the SERP, and you don’t even have to click on the link to find what you want to know.
You can show this information on Google by manually tagging the important stuff, like reviews and prices, in the <head> tag of your page’s HTML. Google provides its very own Structured Data Markup Helper to automatically create the code for you.
Why is this important for voice commerce? Because it will help Google crawl your website faster without actually having to visit it, and faster pages are more likely to be returned as results for users. More importantly, it helps Google recognise the most relevant information to tell people via voice.
“Keep it simple” is almost always the best creed to follow, but with voice commerce it’s more important than ever. Another consequence of the lack of a visual element to voice assistant speakers is that shoppers will not be able to interact with your brand and your store in the way they (and you) are used to.
They can’t easily browse through different items to see what they like best – that’s why voice speakers are mostly reserved for reordering items previously saved in a customer’s shopping history. They can’t fill in long and complex forms and won’t want to hear Alexa or their Google Home Assistant spouting off reams of information that they didn’t ask for.
Keeping it simple means only giving the bare minimum amount of information necessary at any given moment in the shopping journey, remembering and autocompleting all customer data from previous sessions, and keeping users logged in to their account. This helps your regular customers to reorder an item they originally bought on another device, or to check out with the cart they saved on their desktop computer the other week, and also helps new customers buy familiar items they don’t necessarily have to see, like AA batteries.
“Skills” are like apps for a voice assistant. For example, online grocery retailer Ocado has a Skill on Amazon that means you can just say, “Alexa, ask Ocado to add onions to my order”. In this way, people can order from other eCommerce retailers and not just Amazon.
Skills, variously known as “Actions” or “Intents” on different tech, are easy to program and should be simpler than an app you can download on mobile. All it needs are clear commands that can be given in natural language. And make sure the shortcut commands are easy to pronounce – don’t call your company or products “Eiwavzytr” and then penalise shoppers for not being able to say it correctly. Here’s a list of sites where you can develop Skills for each of the major voice assistants:
Before, it was fine just to order the products on your eCommerce store with simple tags (“T-shirt”, “sports”, “V-neck”) and have the different product variants take care of the rest, like colour and size. That’s acceptable for customers who can see what they’re about to buy, but what about someone shopping on an Amazon Echo?
“This is a problem for voice-only devices both during the product research and purchase process.”
[Inge De Bleecker, Senior Director of UX at Framingham]
Be sure that product descriptions, titles and categorisation tags include all the relevant product information. Don’t take anything for granted. “Red sports T-shirt with V-neck, for male size 40-42” is nice and clear.
AI is also starting to be able to recognise the difference between male and female voices, to know who is ordering. For example, when a woman says, “OK Google, I want a red running shirt”, the system is clever enough to show her results for women’s clothes, not men’s. This will only work, though, if the products on your e-store are correctly categorised and labelled.
If you’re selling your products on Amazon’s eCommerce marketplace, you will have an advantage capturing customers who have an Amazon smart speaker device, like an Echo or Echo Buds. Naturally, the Amazon virtual assistant favours its own eCommerce service for sales, but you’ve still got plenty of opportunities to push your own online store on Siri, Cortana and Google Assistant.
In fact, away from search engines, you will have more chance of people buying from your eCommerce store if they navigate there directly. “Siri, go to (your site here)”. And how do you get them to do that? Raise brand awareness. Make them know yours is the one-stop-shop for exactly what they want to buy. And teach them to use the commands for those Skills you’ve already made.
The capabilities for voice commerce are far stronger in English than in any other language, with Google claiming a 95% accuracy rate for its voice searches. All the same, these searches are now available in over 100 languages, and they’re getting more powerful all the time.
Try to optimise your site in multiple languages, if you have multilingual customers or the ability to ship to different countries. Being ready at the forefront of voice search in languages other than English will give you an edge on the competition. By the time everyone else has caught up with the fact that they should be changing their Chinese-language site structure and content, you’ll already be counting your profits.
Make sure it actually works! Get different people to try ordering items, returning something or navigating any other part of your site using just their voice. They’ll all have different voices, and will probably say things in slightly different ways. Ask for help from people outside the business, who don’t use the same technical jargon you do every day, to give you an idea of how it works with natural speech.
And when you’re sure you’ve conducted the most extensive testing you possibly can… do it again! You want to make sure that any changes you make to optimise your eCommerce site for voice commerce won’t end up hurting your brand in the end.
All the best, shiny new features in the world are worth nothing if your customers don’t know how to use them properly. Or worse, if your customers don’t even know they exist.
A study by Adobe shows that 7 out of 10 people who don’t have smart speakers are still embarrassed to speak to a machine in public, and even 28% of smart-speaker owners are uncomfortable using them in front of others.
Educating customers is a good way to overcome the embarrassment of using voice assistants
Use your best marketing tactics and customer support services to combat ignorance and shame around using voice commerce, and increase your customer base as a result. Include information on the best words and phrases for customers to say when using your eCommerce services, too, to make their shopping experience smoother.
Finally, the best way to make voice commerce work for your business is to contribute to the research of this area. This could mean conducting your own surveys and investigations, or funding scientific experiments into Artificial Intelligence.
Furthering the cause and fortifying the capabilities of AI-powered voice technology is possibly the best way to ensure you continue to reap the benefits of voice commerce in years to come.
At the same time, remember that buying by voice is just one more channel for customers in the complex and varying shopping journey they take. These days, shoppers expect to be able to do a range of things to interact with your brand across multiple touchpoints, of which voice technology is just a part. They might discover a product on social media, start product comparison on mobile (with or without voice), add their chosen product to their cart on desktop, finally order the thing on their smart speaker, and pick it up in store. At the end of the day, you have to integrate voice commerce into part of your wider Omnichannel retail strategy.
SmartOSC specialises in creating fully personalised Omnichannel strategies for eCommerce brands. Contact us today to find out how we can help you.