Voice Assistants and the Grocery Sector.

Posted by Amy Nichols on the 21st August, 2018
Today, as many as 14% of Brits currently do all of their grocery shopping online, up from 7% in 2014.

Are you ready for voice to become the next frontier of your brand experience?

Not so long ago, mobile was not a popular tool for online shopping. Slow loading times and small screen sizes meant that desktops and laptops were the main devices used for online grocery. Today, as many as 14% of Brits currently do all of their grocery shopping online, up from 7% in 2014. Online shopping is still growing far more quickly than traditional bricks-and-mortar retail, and much of that is thanks to people using mobile devices to shop.

Technology is again moving us forward.

Retailers: Are you ready for your customers to expect to use voice to add items to their shopping basket? What about when they want to book their delivery, or add ingredients from a recipe?

FMCG brands: Are you ready for your consumers to call for you by name? What are the challenges to get consumers to remember your brand and variety when simply using voice to add you to their basket? What impact will this have on the importance of price and pack on the decision?

How do voice assistants work?

Devices such as Amazon’s Alexa-powered speakers and Google Home use artificial intelligence to respond to voice commands. Using IFTTT (if this, then that), customers can automate adding to basket and other rules. IFTTT is one of the ‘friendliest’ API (Application Programming Interface) services to use. Unlike most APIs, no programming knowledge is required. It is the closest API yet to reach a large base of customers. We think this stands it in good stead for use by consumers who have grown up in the digital world and are likely to understand the concepts behind IFTTT much more readily.

How do voice assistants affect grocery?

The race to provide a voice-enabled retail experience has begun. Grocers such as Tesco and Asda are already trying to harness the opportunities that voice-tech offers. Asda has teamed up with Google Assistant to connect their online grocery service to their customers smart devices, which is activated with a simple “Hey Google, talk to Asda”. Tesco announced last summer the facility to add products via Google Home or Alexa.

The human insight on voice.

When we read, we recognise words as pictures and hear them spoken aloud in our heads. We know that, neurologically, processing information we hear requires far less brain activity than reading it. We’re excited for the opportunities presented by voice in the retail sector. We know that consumers shop for food on a more regular basis than most other categories – it accounts for a third to half of all spending in many developed countries. Our research shows that general awareness of virtual assistant Alexa, developed by Amazon, has increased in the last year (57% vs 89%) and twice as many people now own the device.

But is it all positive for consumers, brands and retailers?

The further we move away from the physical environment, the further we move from ‘real’ human interaction. Voice is one step further away, and whilst the voice itself has the possibility to humanise the experiences lightly, it is only a little, and only if the AI is good.

When you take visual cues out, what are you left with? Could this be a big problem for brands with nothing more than top of mind recall to rely on? Does it really mean that other touchpoints within the customer journey become more important to boost recall? Advertising and brand awareness outside of the retail environment will become more important.

We know technology is being used to enhance, change and evolve the customer journey. But one thing remains the same…

Human understanding.

The Uncanny Valley.

The Uncanny Valley is an interesting concept to consider. As interacting with Voice approaches the experience of talking with another human, their robot-ness becomes accentuated. The uncanny valley explains that robots when gaining human-like features are being liked more and more, until a certain point when the robots become too human-like and cause discomfort. The sharp drop in likability is when people start describing a robot as creepy, and this drop is called the uncanny valley.

Uncanny Valley

Know your shopper.

Whether you are investing in new tech to cope with incorporating voice into your business, or trying out new ways of marketing to those using voice, you still need to understand your customer to really know what works for you. Good marketing is still based on knowing where and who your audience are, regardless of the device they are interacting with. Combining strong customer insight and understanding how users are engaging with the devices is key. Understanding where the pain points are, and ensuring their brand experience is consistent with other channels, will be a key priority to make sure voice is as good as it can be.

The role of emotions in online shopping is even more important than in traditional marketing contexts because the consumer is disengaged from human interaction.

Lam and Lin (2004)


Get ahead of the curve.

We work with our clients to understand the customer journey across channels, explore how consumers behave and how they feel. If you want to talk to us about exploring your customer journey in more detail, or start the voyage of discovery on how your brand can own‘voice’, please get in touch!

P.S. Don’t forget your manners.

One for all the parents out there:

Amazon will be programming Alexa to reward children when they ask for something nicely using please and thank you. Parents expressed concern that the voice assistant was teaching their children to sound rude!

Meet the Author: Amy Nichols
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