Many customers are avoiding the store and opting for online orders and BOPIS or curbside pickup for groceries. In light of this, voice-based shopping has been adopted by several grocers, including Carrefour utilizing a Google Assistant action and Flipkart in India enabling a voice shopping assistant through its mobile app.
Voice is also materializing as a utility for in-store visits. Amazon’s new Fresh stores come equipped with Echo devices in the store, providing product availability and location information to users. The tech giant has also piloted smart earbuds in Whole Foods as a way to help consumers quickly find produce. Another company using voice to improve customer shopping experiences is Walmart. Its recently released employee-facing assistant “Ask Sam” helps floor associates retrieve information for customers quickly and efficiently.
Even fast-food chains are embracing voice technology. McDonald’s has tested voice-enabled, drive-through ordering technology in Chicago and voice-enabled kiosks in Madrid, while this October, White Castle is deploying voice tech made by Mastercard and SoundHound to facilitate similar capabilities. Whether it’s at-home shopping, on-the-go assistance, or point-of-sale activations, we see voice becoming a mainstay in the retail space.
While Amazon and Smart Aisle pilot stores have a head start on voice in-store, we expect this to take hold at most retailers. It may start with a shelf-side smart speaker or a more robust kiosk for larger stores, but soon enough, voice could be available around every turn with custom wake words assigned by aisle category or store section. In addition to in-aisle point-of-sale moments, we expect to see much larger integration of voice into checkout and employee interaction experiences. Voice is a natural fit to help guide consumers and get them checked out without the need for extraneous associate contact or the touching of shared digital surfaces.
As employees navigate how to safely interact with customers and minimize time spent solving in-store issues and questions, employee-facing voice applications can provide a solution. Walmart’s “Ask Sam” has shown that employees can benefit from an assistant that can easily look up inventory, communicate with other team members, and request information. Applied to the grocery context, we anticipate voice assistants being used to help employees manage online orders and pick-and-pack tasks. The cost savings realized by retailers through streamlining these activities and empowering employees will make voice an easy investment.
With consumers wearing headphones more often and seeking quicker, more efficient trips to stores, hearables equipped with voice assistants are innovative channels to consider. These devices will eventually be able to connect to store’s mobile apps or beacon technology, creating an immersive shopping trip where consumers can hear about offers or locate products across stores in real-time. Envision moving through stores with your smart earbuds and having your voice assistant of choice send you product availability and location straight to your ears, directing you to certain aisles as needed. Pick-and-pack employees, such as Instacart employees, can also benefit from this technology and leverage features like voice-enabled shopping lists to streamline their tasks.
The rise of voice assistant usage in cars creates the potential to condense and enhance the typical shopping trip. From a functionality standpoint, we are not far from shoppers being able to order items ahead of time, complete payment, and alert stores that they’ve arrived, all from the driver’s seat. As these applications gain intelligence and make use of geo-location data, retailers can start thinking of contextual promotions and location-based offers as well.