Is voice the next big retail channel?

Voice-activated shopping is emerging as a noteworthy commerce channel, which retailers should consider including within their sales strategy.

Amazon’s Echo speakers with Alexa voice recognition software have proven to be a surprise hit in recent months, given that both Apple and Google were expected to dominate this space – and not until late 2017 at the earliest. Echo was released in the UK in September 2016, but has been available in the US since June 2015, providing enough time to be able to analyse early usage behavior.

Last year, Echo speakers were the highest-selling item on Amazon and customers have been using the speakers for a range of activities, from playing music, to reading the news, setting alarms and timers, or controlling smart lights. But most importantly for Amazon, users have been adding items to a shopping list and voice-ordering products through Amazon Prime. With millions of units sold already, Business Insider and investment firm Mizuho report that the devices could generate $7bn in revenue for Amazon.com by 2020.

At this year’s annual industry tradeshow, CES, a vast number of devices were on display with Alexa-capability built in, suggesting that the Alexa ecosystem will continue to grow at a rapid pace in the coming years. And with Google Home speakers recently released as well, Android users could potentially adopt voice activated devices at a comparable rate to their adoption of Android smartphones. Apple, with its Siri technology, is unlikely to be too far behind.

Apple, followed by Google shortly after, pioneered mobile retail – and mobile-only businesses – through its first smartphone and app store launches between 2007 and 2008. Now ten years on, these two tech giants and Amazon could help bring voice-activated shopping into the mainstream too.

The progression would make sense, as shoppers continue to look for quicker and more convenient ways to shop. Online shopping grew in popularity when consumers found it more convenient that visiting bricks and mortar outlets, then mobile shopping did the same when they wanted to buy online, but on-the-go. Voice shopping is the next logical step, for consumers who are multi-tasking at home or on the move and want to buy items in a few seconds, through a simple verbal command.

If the likes of Apple, Google and Amazon succeed in bringing a voice-shopping mentality to consumers, then retailers will need to be one step ahead and work on adapting their sales strategy accordingly.