Voice-Based And Visual Search
It’s tempting to write this category off because Amazon’s Echo device appears to have an early lead in the market. But retailers including Dunkin’ Donuts, 1-800 Flowers, Domino’s, and Starbucks have created Skills for Amazon’s Alexa that let consumers order items on Echo and other Amazon-based devices.
The catch is that consumers have to ask for such items by name. If they ask for something generic, like “a toaster,” then Alexa will direct the query to Amazon. Though Amazon has hinted at offering paid search on Alexa, the company has not confirmed such plans.
In addition, Google Home technology will suggest local retailers when consumers ask for generic items, such as a new jacket or a set of flatware. Apple’s Siri, meanwhile, calls up local retailers via Apple Maps. If you tell Siri “I’d like to buy a shovel?” it asks “What kind of store are you looking for?” Then it directs you to hardware stores.
As Mary Meeker’s “Internet Trends Report” last year noted, voice-based technology lets consumers shop when they are doing household chores, driving, or on the go. It’s also a draw for Millennials. A recent report from Walker Sands showed 43% of Millennials made a voice-based purchase over the previous year. Consumers in that report said that security, privacy and the lack of visuals were the main reason that consumers were wary of voice-based search. The Amazon Echo Show, which includes a screen, addresses the latter issue.
Voice-based communication has received a lot of attention, but another new way consumers are finding new products is via visual search. In October, Google introduced Google Lens, which lets users point to an item and receive an explanation of what it is. If a person sees someone sporting a nice pair of sneakers, for instance, Google Lens could tell her the brand and where she could buy it.
Google is not the only one offering visual search. Even earlier, Pinterest introduced a similar tool in 2015 that helps isolate images in Pins—for example, a lamp in an image of a living room—and then provides a link to where to buy it. Realizing the implications, Target recently incorporated the feature in its app. Wayfair and West Elm also have introduced visual search capabilities in their apps.
Another new touch point for consumers is via messaging services such as Facebook Messenger, Facebook’s WhatsApp, and Japan’s Line. With some 2 billion users projected to be on messaging platform by next year, retailers can’t afford to ignore the platform. In 2016, Facebook opened Messenger to brands, which unleashed chatbot for 1-800 Flowers, Starbucks, Whole Foods and many others. Sephora’s chatbot, for instance, lets you book appointments with a beauty specialist at the store and get help with purchasing decisions. Whole Foods’ chatbot, meanwhile, offers recipe advice.
Most retailers are still experimenting. Brian Seewald, VP of digital at DSW, told CMO by Adobe that the retailer is still assessing the role of chatbots in its marketing strategy. “The test we’ve done is really about giving customers the ability to get very simple questions answered about where their order is, in an automated way,” Seewald said. “Every time I order something from DSW, which I do frequently, I opt in for Facebook Messenger alerts at checkout because I like to keep checking up on the experience—and it’s a really solid experience.”
Having trouble flagging down a sales associate? That might be less of a problem in the future if more retailers follow Lowe’s. Last year, the home-improvement retailer introduced its “LoweBot,” in 11 stores in the San Francisco area. The LoweBot, created by Fellow Robots, can answer consumer’s spoken questions or let customers type their queries on a touch screen.
More commonly, retailers use robots in their warehouses. Amazon, for instance, uses 45,000 robots in 20 fulfillment centers. In October, Walmart also announced that it’s using shelf-scanning robots in 50 of its U.S. stores to replenish inventory faster.