by Gemma Spence
Head of Ecommerce, PHD Global Business


2018 will be the year of voice commerce due to developments in conversation-fuelled search.

According to the Walker Sands 2017 Future of Retail Study, almost a quarter of people surveyed in the US, now own some kind of in-home voice-controlled device, such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home, and another 20% are planning to purchase one in the coming year.

One in five people have made a voice purchase through their VPA (Virtual Personal Assistant), and a third plan to do so in 2018.

Meanwhile, 45 million VPAs are in use in the US, according to eMarketer, and that number will rise to 67 million by 2019. It’s no surprise therefore that, according to research by ComScore, 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020.

Our natural tendency to favour the spoken word over text when expressing ourselves, coupled with AI advancements in NLP (Natural Language Processing), means that, this year, retailers and brands will shift their digital strategy from keyword-focused content to conversational search optimisation.

In order to achieve success, marketers will still need to retain their sights on mobile compatibility.

The majority of voice commerce searches are performed via mobile, so enhancing page load speeds, eliminating intrusive pop-ups, optimising for location, and converting conversational language and product queries into long-tail keywords will be a priority.

According to Google, voice search queries often start with ‘who, what, why and how’, in order to get an answer to a direct question. Retailers who include content that seeks to answer these queries will be prioritised in voice search results.

Partnering brand products with VPAs will also grow in importance during 2018.

Brands such as Domino’s Pizza, Tesco and Ocado have been developing their own voice search offers for a while now – incorporating them into brand-owned apps and for wearables such as the Apple Watch, with varying degrees of success.

However, the majority of product marketers won’t fancy their chances of competing against the retail behemoths of Amazon and Google, so need to form strategic partnerships with these key VPA owners.

Amazon’s Alexa may still only be a few years old but recent estimates suggest that 10 million Echo and Echo Dot smart speakers were shipped in 2017. These devices are currently prioritising Amazon-owned brands for staple product orders.

Already, Amazon sells more of its own brand of batteries than Duracell and almost as many nappies as Pampers or Huggies.

In the year ahead, marketers will quickly realise that if they don’t start taking Amazon’s search capabilities seriously and get in on the ‘Amazon effect’ now, they too could find Amazon-owned brands overtaking their own market share.

The same should also be said for Google Home, which employs a voice AI system called Assistant. With voice replacing fingertips, conversational search is ‘ground zero’ right now when it comes to retail brands, so 2018 will be a big year of discovery.

Elsewhere, individual retail stores’ own search algorithms will continue to evolve in line with voice commerce, plus the increased competition from marketplace platforms such as Amazon.

It will be essential therefore, for product marketers to work with all the key retailers in the year ahead to understand how their search engine algorithms are changing and which elements of the purchase are being prioritised the most.

Amazon’s arrival into any new area of retail must send a shiver of disruption down the spine of all those who had traditionally dominated it.

In the year ahead, we anticipate Amazon’s expansion into the European automotive retail sector.

In August 2016, the Seattle-based technology company launched Amazon Vehicles in the US It was initially billed as ‘a car research destination and automotive community’ where users can find specifications, images, videos and customer reviews of both new and used cars. Amazon users could also ask car-related questions to other users.

As the platform evolved, more than 35 million American users were then able to add their vehicles into the Amazon Garage (where users can store details of their car and find related auto parts and accessories).

At the time, the online auto parts and accessories market was estimated to be worth about $67 billion and Amazon Vehicles definitely had it within its cross hairs.

By November 2017 however, Amazon had also begun acting as a portal for carmaker Fiat in Italy, presenting the 500, 500L and Panda models online and funnelling consumers to selected dealerships (for a small fee of course).

The company also had a similar scheme operating in France with Seat and this year, it’s anticipated that we’ll see Amazon enter the UK automotive market.

In preparation, automotive retailers should look to fully optimise their digital assets on Amazon by upgrading product content, images and keywords. They’ll also need to fully understand the customer journey and how Amazon could be integrated as a digital touch-point.

 

Plus, they’ll need to review e-commerce measurement, tracking, analytics and the online purchasing experience in order to truly understand how increased disruption within this sector will impact them.

In the recent past, automotive websites just provided information to interested customers and relied almost entirely on dealerships for sales.

Now, with disruption on the horizon, the car industry predicting growth until 2020, and an overall e-commerce growth rate that shows no signs of slowing, automotive brands have an opportunity to act as a one-stop-shop marketplace.

Already, we’ve seen Peugeot launch an online car-buying service and Hyundai unveil a ‘click-to-buy’ website. These brands, along with BMW, are focused on digital channels that provide a responsive user experience, seamless integration between services, and mobile-first elements that will appeal to the next generation of car buyers.

In 2018, as consumers, not only do we expect to be able to search for and purchase a whole range of products, including vehicles via voice commerce, we also anticipate asking Alexa or Google Assistant to find us the best deal, arrange for delivery and even complete the transaction without us having to lift a finger.

The year ahead will prove pivotal for e-commerce because it forms the gateway into a new world where how we make purchasing decisions, who we buy from and how those purchases are made, will all be driven by advances in technology.

It’s a gateway that brands need to be ready for. Standing still will no longer be an option – not with retail finally finding its voice and so much disruption reshaping the e-commerce landscape.

This article formed part of ‘PHD Perspectives’, click this link to read the full publication http://bit.ly/phdperspectives