I still remember the day – way back in 1996 – that I experienced the internet for the first time. It started out like any other work day: I logged on to my Windows 95 PC, I checked email on Lotus Notes, and I began my project tasks for the day.
Then, in an instant, everything changed.
A colleague walked into my office, clearly excited about something. She wanted to show me some information she had gathered about a project we were working on at the time, and she presented a long list of information she found through something she called “Alta Vista.” When I figured out just exactly what it was that she was showing me – an index of some 20 million documents sorted (in mere seconds) according to our interests – I was stunned. I knew in that exact moment that my world had just changed forever.
I didn’t know then exactly how the internet would change the world, but I knew it would change the world.
Changing the Conversation…Again
And just like the internet shaped our lives all those decades ago, once again, the power of the internet is poised to transform the status quo through “conversational commerce.”
Seemingly overnight, smart speakers – most notably Amazon’s Echo – have found a way to bring the “magic” of the internet to life through those nondescript speakers that now sit on more than 50 million credenzas, coffee tables, night stands and kitchen counters all around the world.
After conducting extensive research on conversational commerce last spring, I have spent the past twelve months issuing dire warnings to anyone who would listen: Beware the allure of the magic of the internet, because there’s something about Alexa that shoppers really like.
According to the Times of London, global shopping via voice-activated devices will increase to £3.5 billion by 2022. And a lot of those conversational commerce dollars will go directly to Amazon. The same Times article reports that nearly half of all smart speaker owners made a purchase through their speakers. And Amazon claimed an astounding 85% of that spending. More troubling, Alexa devices seem to be increasing the loyalty of already-loyal Amazon customers. According to recent research from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, homes with an Echo spend $400 more per year with Amazon than the average Amazon household. That’s a 66% lift over already-impressive Amazon spending.
Sadly, very few have heeded my warning. As Amazon continues to practically give away their speakers, gobbling up market share while simultaneously investing in Alexa’s Amazon-centric shopping capabilities, retail has largely failed to engage. I just refreshed my search of the Alexa Skill Store for the most popular shopping skills, hoping that – at long last – I would find a bevy of brands with skills ready for me to try. Instead, I abandoned my search after finding just four national brands on the first five pages of search results. (In case you were wondering, 1-800-Flowers, Best Buy, B&H Photo and REI were the only four brands I found on my quest.)
Conversational Commerce: Time to Sharpen Your Skills
I honestly don’t know why everyone is waiting. Yes, Amazon is a competitor, and yes, deploying Alexa skills directly supports adoption of the Echo. I get that. But here’s the thing: while we wait, Amazon is busy gobbling up market share for their speakers. And they are also gobbling up mindshare with shoppers. While we wait, millions and millions of shoppers are learning just how easy it is to ask Alexa to send them something and then watch as their orders magically arrive at their door hours later. Millions more are learning just how easy it is to ask Alexa “where’s my stuff?” and instantly hear the status of all their open Amazon orders. No screens, no reading glasses (sadly a required nuisance for most shoppers of my generation), no typing, no fine print, no waiting.
Amazon’s version of Conversational Commerce removes all the friction from the shopping process (at least for certain categories). In fact, they are positively spoiling shoppers. Just ask, and ye shall receive.
It’s time to get in the game, people. Even in categories like apparel, where discovery and browsing are important (and doing so via voice is – at best – challenging), it’s important to begin gaining your share of voice with shoppers. If you haven’t done so already, I strongly urge you to begin creating new conversations with your customers. If you think browsing is a bridge too far for your category, it’s not too soon to make store hours and locations easy questions to ask. Order status should be a no-brainer as well. Promotion schedules and loyalty status are also easy conversations to have.
I really think it’s time to sharpen your skills and engage your shoppers via voice. And do it now, before Amazon completely dominates the conversation.