A voice AI shopping experience
Jan 06, 2022
7 MIN READ

The Four Keys to Implementing a Voice Shopping Experience

What is voice shopping? How does voice shopping work? These questions and more are populating search engines as people begin to rely on voice interfaces to live their lives. The challenge for retailers is how to make shopping experiences convenient and positive enough to keep consumers using voice as an interface to buy through their stores — not their competition’s. 

For merchants, the world of voice shopping is a complicated one. Adding voice to existing apps and offering voice assistants in-store are emerging as ways they can control the experience, reduce friction and competition, and retain customer data.

To be effective, any proprietary voice shopping app or in-store voice experience must be responsive and accurate — delivering on the promise of convenience and reducing frustration. In order to meet these requirements, retail brands must look at solutions that are more responsive than simply laying voice on top of existing applications or throwing their product catalogs into the jumble with third-party speakers.

The myths of designing for voice shopping experiences

Before we can begin a discussion about implementing voice-enabled shopping experiences, we need to debunk a few myths:

Voice user interface myths:

  1. It’s easy to lay a voice interface onto an existing mobile app
  2. Customers need to see the product before they will buy
  3. Voice search can be accomplished just by adding a microphone
  4. People will know what to do and what questions to ask if you provide a voice interface
  5. Visual designers know how to design for voice

To help retailers navigate the complicated world of voice AI, we’ve identified the 4 keys to implementing a successful voice strategy.

#1 Expand customer experiences through voice AI

For some retail brands, looking beyond a “quick fix” solution means taking a step back and thinking about the long-term strategy behind a voice user interface.

A voice assistant has the potential to be your most successful sales associate or could lapse into being your most annoying “greeter.” If your customers can’t navigate through your product offerings, filtering for color, price, size, availability, and a variety of other preferences, they will quickly abandon your voice assistant for some other method of interacting. It’s possible that eventually these consumers—looking for a more convenient and interactive way of buying products—will leave your brand for one that provides a better user experience.

A voice assistant has the potential to be your most successful sales associate or could lapse into being your most annoying “greeter.

When designing a better VUI, be sure to include purchasing options. Allowing your customers to pick the item up in your store will not only increase foot traffic to your brick and mortar locations, but it also gives consumers the comfort of knowing they can touch the product and try it on before making the final purchase. Shopping cart options will expand your customer base beyond your geographic area and provide greater convenience to those who don’t want to—or aren’t able to—travel to your location.

Recently, the retail industry experienced a massive shift in traditional business models as people abandoned in-person shopping for online purchasing. In a short period of time, those virtual shopping experiences have improved, allowing customers to sort and compare products by price and customer reviews and ratings. Online shopping has also increased the availability of products since retailers can list items available in every location and warehouse around the country.

Your voice-enabled shopping strategy should set clear goals around all the ways adding a voice interface will improve the shopping experience and elevate your brand—whether through your mobile app or in-store kiosk.

#2 Key components of voice-enabled shopping

Exactly how will your voice-enabled shopping experience look and sound to your customers on their mobile devices or through your in-store kiosks? Sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference between a successful voice interface and one that is quickly abandoned.

Key components of engaging voice user interfaces for apps include:

  • Visual cues
  • A custom branded wake word
  • A listening screen
  • Voice to text transcriptions
  • Processing signal
  • Prompts to guide search and filtering
  • Spoken and visual responses
  • Immediate user feedback

It’s likely that your customers will not be using your voice assistant without the benefit of looking at the results on their mobile devices. However, a well-designed voice user interface will make voice a preferred input method for users looking for advanced functionality and convenience. Therefore, it’s important to incorporate visual cues—like a microphone button—to let users know the voice assistant is enabled.

Voice Shopping Experiences

Let your customers know they are buying from you. A custom, branded wake word will associate every purchase with your brand—creating evangelists and brand affinity. In the beginning, you’ll have to teach your users how to wake up your voice assistant, but the ultimate goal is to have your brand top of mind for your consumers.

A custom, branded wake word will associate every purchase with your brand—creating evangelists and brand affinity.

Text prompts and text transcriptions of what your user is saying confirm that the voice assistant is listening and accurately receiving the words spoken by the user. Since results may require filtering for several specific preferences all at once, be sure your customer knows you’re working on it by providing a loading indicator and keeping the latest transcription visible during the search time.

The interaction has not ended when the product selection has been displayed. Be sure to ask if your customer has been satisfied—much in the same way a clerk may ask if the customer needs anything further. “Did we get it right” or a similar response, once the search result has been delivered, will let your customers know you’re interested in making sure you’ve met all their needs.

#3 Provide customer education and shopping engagement

Just because you have a microphone icon on your app, doesn’t mean people will engage with your voice assistant when making purchases. In a space that has been highly visual in the past, people will likely need some prompting to navigate your site and get satisfying results.

A key element of your voice-enabled strategy is customer education. Either through prompts, an email campaign, or both users will need to understand:

  • How to search
  • What questions they can ask
  • Which filters are available
  • What unique functions are available

Natural language understanding (NLU) is key to providing a seamless and conversational experience for your customers. Let them know that they can ask complex, multi-step questions. As they learn to speak naturally, your customers will appreciate the ability to talk to your voice assistant in much the same way they would a sales assistant on the floor.

As they learn to speak naturally, your customers will appreciate the ability to talk to your voice assistant in much the same way they would a sales assistant on the floor.

An example of a natural speech dialogue might sound something like this: “Find me a formal gown in champagne or rose, size 6 that doesn’t have a V-neck.” Once the selection is displayed, users can go on to filter further without going back to the home position with a question like, “How about those under $500 without long sleeves?”

Reducing customer frustration and the impulse to shout at the voice assistant is accomplished when people aren’t talking like robots in a shortened version of their language. Key to delivering a truly natural, conversational experience is the voice interface’s ability to understand multiple questions in one utterance and deliver accurate results to each part of the query. As in normal conversation, people should be able to ask complex questions without breaking them down into simple statements and still get a rapid response.

Design your voice shopping experience to ensure successful outcomes by including helpful guidelines at key moments. The feeling of empowerment a user gets with a successful result dramatically increases the likelihood of using voice again and sharing the positive experience with others. Conversely, the disappointment of a failed effort can shut down future attempts and create a disconnect with the retailer.

The overall voice shopping experience should be designed to increase the likelihood of accomplishment, reward successful attempts, and encourage users to keep trying if they don’t achieve the exact result the first time.

#4 Consider all the possible shopping use cases for voice AI

voice-enabled shopping experience doesn’t have to be confined to only your mobile app. Expand the customer experience by offering voice-enabled kiosks inside your brick-and-mortar locations. Help consumers who are in a hurry, or looking for one specific item to purchase by giving them instant access to the availability, price comparisons, and in-store location of the item they are ready to buy.

While some store experiences include wandering the aisles and making impulse buys, other customers already know what they want and don’t want the inconvenience of having to search the entire store looking for it. These customers can be further frustrated when faced with trying to search for store staff to help them find their items. An in-store kiosk ensures that your customers are receiving a stellar customer service experience every time they enter through your doors—freeing up store staff to complete other tasks.

An in-store kiosk ensures that your customers are receiving a stellar customer service experience every time they enter through your doors—freeing up store staff to complete other tasks.

When an item isn’t available in-store, you increase the chance of completing the sale by offering an on-site purchase and shipping option through a voice-enabled kiosk.

Just as shopping moved from in-store to online, shopping interfaces will also move from swipe and type to voice-enabled. The only question is: when will your retail brand offer customized voice experiences that connect with customers?

At SoundHound Inc., we have all the tools and expertise needed to create custom voice assistants and a consistent brand voice. Explore SoundHound’s independent voice AI platform at SoundHound.com and register for a free account here. Want to learn more? Talk to us about how we can help bring your voice strategy to life.

Karen Scates is a storyteller with a passion for helping others through content. Argentine tango, good books, and great wine round out Karen’s interests.

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