The Voice Assistant: A New Mobile Frontier for Merchants, Part I of II

Voice activated personal assistants like Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri have exploded onto the scene.  It’s expected that by 2022, 50% of US households will have at least one smart speaker with personal voice assistant capability.[1]   While the number of devices in use is huge, the functionality they currently offer is just the tip of the iceberg.

Most people are using voice-activated assistants to manage their home automation, play music, and stay up to date on news and weather, but these devices also offer the possibility to make purchases using a stored wallet that can authorize purchases using the owners’ voice.  Currently 29% of these device owners have used their voice to make at least one purchase.[2]  Given the relative newness of this technology, this statistic is significant, especially when we consider the low adoption rates of users who have utilized Apple Pay to perform a contactless transaction. Anyone who wishes to tap into a new payment modality should take note of this – the number of users that use their voice to complete a purchase is only expected to increase. Merchants who wish to support voice commerce must understand the challenges that exist in developing a user interface and perfecting an experience that can only be heard, not seen.

Current Voice Assistant Landscape

Of the 30million homes that currently have one of these devices in them, Amazon’s Alexa dominates with 70% market share.[3] The Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Samsung’s Bixby are all considered top offerings from the world’s largest brands.  There are also many smaller, independent offerings attempting to carve out a niche for themselves. Many of these devices are intended to be fixed in the home but manufacturers have on eye on making them more mobile. Apple’s Car Play allows its mobile devices to seamlessly integrate with car entertainment systems, but Amazon is making headway in this space with an agreement to have Alexa preinstalled in all BMWs starting in mid-2018.

Voice Assistants as a Commerce Channel

Alexa can place orders from Amazon for any specific items that a consumer requests. It will also provide suggestions if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for.  Google’s Assistant has partnered with Walmart to fulfill customer purchases.  Third party integrations with these devices are currently limited, but there are a few merchants taking advantage of this channel.

Domino’s Pizza and Starbucks both allow users to order and pay for purchases using their voice once they have linked their device to an account.  The same is true for Uber and Lyft, who will send a car to your location using voice commands.  Customers are enjoying the novelty of this functionality, but businesses hoping to engage their customers through this channel must carefully design a simple, effective, and easy to use experience.

Strategies that worked for engaging consumers on the internet, their mobile devices, or in their inboxes might not be the same ones that are effective with these personal assistants.  The experience must be smooth and efficient otherwise the consumer will revert to a more familiar experience. Part II of this article will take a closer look at the components of an effective strategy for enabling commerce through these personal assistants.





The Lifelong Value of Retail Experience

Run a register before you run a company

13 years ago, I traded in the manager’s keys of my gas station for a computer, a cubicle, and title of Operations Analyst.  Many titles and office-based jobs later, I continue to call on the skills and experiences from my job as a retail manager nearly every day.

I encourage anyone with ambitions of leading a retail organization, particularly one that depends heavily on employees from all levels of society, to spend a few shifts working at your company’s retail locations.  I promise you will gain experience and perspective that cannot be obtained any other way.  Here’s why:

  1. Cashiers are the face of a retail brand

A select group of consumers may be able to name the CEO of their favorite retailer, but their experience with a brand is shaped by the people they meet behind the counter.  To effectively guide the people who interact with consumers daily, I believe one must get to know those faces of a brand.  My experience with gas station employees introduced me to folks who don’t say a word and folks who will bend your ear for hours; to part-timers who treat a store as though their name is on the sign and managers who don’t care if the site is out of fuel.

  1. Understand the impact of corporate initiatives

Only by being a cashier for a few shifts can one truly grasp the numerous activities required to keep a gas station clean, stocked, and running smoothly.  I encourage business leaders to assess the impact of adding to/changing operational procedures while setting expectations for results.  Can a cashier serving a shift alone safely perform additional duties?  How does adding a loyalty program impact the amount of time consumers stand in line?

  1. Direct consumer feedback

I can’t seem to collect a receipt from a cashier lately without a plea to fill out a survey using a code at the bottom.  Surveys can provide useful data measuring consumer sentiment, but they can be skewed by disgruntled consumers looking to vent; and by the same person who repeatedly spends a few minutes online in exchange for the chance to win a prize.  Interacting directly with consumers can paint a much clearer picture of how your brand is perceived; how your products stand up against the competition; whether customers are likely to return or take their business elsewhere.  Don’t wait for your company to start trending on social media to decide you need to know what’s really happening in your stores.

What do I do next?

For most retailers, cashiers and consumer-facing staff control a brand.  Working alongside them will reveal underlying motivations that can influence policies and incentives.  Salt Lake City-based Maverik, Inc. recently conducted exit interviews with employees that led to the introduction of an app-based scheduling solution to address a high number of no-shows.  I commend this innovative approach, but wonder how many additional insights could be gained by going one step further?  Placing corporate employees in stores could uncover additional efficiency opportunities to those with the power to enact them.

For any sizable retailer, it is not realistic to work with and meet all consumer facing employees.  That shouldn’t stop you from mandating a reality check for everyone from the CEO on down.  You can learn a lot about how things are really going and how consumers interact with your brand while stocking a cooler and sweeping the lot.

For further discussion about the value of retail experience and how to implement a program for your company, contact Zach Pastko at