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How Retailers Can Use Voice to Meet Consumers Where They Are

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How Retailers Can Use Voice to Meet Consumers Where They Are

By Erick Sigmond, Senior Strategist  

If someone asked you to think about how people use Voice technology, there are probably a few things that immediately come to mind – asking Alexa to set a timer, asking Siri what the weather forecast looks like this weekend, or telling Google Assistant to play your favorite Spotify playlist. But as the technology continues to evolve and the list of Voice-enabled devices continues to grow, so do the use cases. Voice is bigger than the smart speaker, and its usefulness can benefit more than just consumers at home.

Voice in a Retail Setting

Outside of developing clever Voice applications and prompting re-order or add-to-list from consumers at home, Voice technology creates a unique opportunity for brands to connect with consumers because it allows them to engage in a controlled conversation directly with consumers right where they are – including in-store and at-shelf.

In the era of Voice, brands can develop experiences that are designed to augment the in-store consumer experience and even drive conversion.

Sampling: Whether at your favorite grocery store, specialty boutique, food court, or big-box department store, everyone loves a good free sample. Brands and retailers have been using sampling as a way to drive product trial since the 19th century. And while Voice assistants will likely not entirely replace the human aspect of product sampling in a retail setting, they can enhance it. Voice experiences are scalable and can be deployed anywhere there is a Wi-Fi connection. For instance, instead of only having one, single-manned station located in a specific aisle or section the retailer, Voice assistants can be used to man multiple stations throughout the store – so long as the retailer would allow. This allows brands to expand the footprint of their sampling events into multiple areas of the retailer while only using the same amount (or nearly the same amount) of labor as the single-manned activation. As long as the product samples are available, the conversational AI can promote the product and answer questions from consumers and even provide coupons or exclusive offers.

Feedback: Most consumers have probably been asked to participate in an automated survey at the end of a customer service phone call at some point or another. These surveys have become so popular because they are relatively easy to set up, can be executed at a low cost, and can provide a valuable gauge of the customer’s satisfaction with their overall experience or the person they interacted with. However, a 2019 study found that phone surveys only typically see an 18 percent response rate while in-person surveys see an average response rate of 57 percent. Voice technology presents a unique opportunity to blend the two survey methods together and can be used by brands and retailers to gather information about the in-store experience, shopping behaviors, and more.

Product Information: Now more than ever, consumers want to be informed about the products they’re buying and the brands they’re purchasing from. Brands risk losing the purchase to a competitor if the right information isn’t presented to the consumer in an easily digestible way and have typically had to rely on packing and POS to accomplish this in-store. Voice can be used to serve as an additional touchpoint in the consumer journey, and conversational experiences can be developed to provide on-demand product information and tell a brand’s story in ways that packaging has previously been unable to.

Customer Service: In a world where online shopping is gaining popularity, many brick-and-mortar retailers rely on their customer service as a point of differentiation and value for their customers. Voice can be used to augment the consumer experience by serving almost as a personal shopping concierge. Instead of trying to flag down an associate to ask if something is in-stock or if they have that item in another color or different size, consumers can just turn to the assistant in their pocket. Retailers in a more personalized or premium space (chocolatiers, dispensaries, spas, etc.) can use Voice assistants to collect information about consumer preferences and provide product or service recommendations based on them.

Other Initiatives: Providing interactive brand experiences in-store and at-shelf can help spark new behaviors at home or at the point of use or consumption. Brands can develop Voice experiences that not only provide value during the in-store shopping experience, but also enhance the experience with the product even after purchase.  

New Uses Emerge in Times of Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered the consumer shopping experience. Active shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders across the country have transformed the typical shopping trip into an excursion to retrieve necessities in the shortest amount of time possible to reduce the chance of infection, and retailers and their employees face the challenge of serving consumers during this time of crisis while also maintaining their own safety.  

In the era of social-distancing, retailers can use Voice to guide consumers through the new shopping experience and reduce the number of employees they have in-store interacting directly with consumers. And while the Voice interactions deployed during this time cannot replace all person-to-person interaction, they can help to minimize it drastically.

Grocery retailers specifically have an opportunity to make an impact with Voice. Consumers temporarily do not have the luxury to be as loyal to specific brands or as selective with the products they are purchasing because of the increased demand and scarcity of certain items. They do, however, still have the ability to be loyal to the grocer they purchase from. How brands and retailers react to the pandemic today will affect how consumers perceive them long after the crisis has ended. Voice technology is a valuable tool that retailers can use to help keep their consumers and employees safe, and those who implement it correctly be remembered for it when the crisis passes.