Can voice search drive ecommerce purchases and sales revenue?


Voice search and ecommerce seem to be unhappy bedfellows right now. But the potential for driving future revenue through this channel can’t be ignored.

The user experience in voice search isn’t yet optimal for making purchases. This means users don’t appear to have a high level of trust in the channel when it comes to spending money.

But it’s estimated that revenue generated through smart speakers alone will more than quadruple by 2022 to $17billion. This isn’t surprising given the exponential growth in unit sales across the globe.

Putting voice to the test

In a recent article, a publisher tested 5 voice assistants – Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, Cortana and Samsung’s Bixby. They tested queries related to ordering books in the New York Times bestseller list.

Queries started with ‘I want to read’, ‘I want to listen to’ and ‘I want to order’.  Just 43% of the queries were recognised. Forbes estimated this could mean around $17million in lost revenue.

The results from this study seem inconsistent with Google’s report that the assistant can accurately interpret 95% of queries. In this test, despite it yielding the best performance of all the digital assistants tested, Google Assistant still only managed to answer correctly in 72% of the tested commands.

Brands who are ready to chat

For ecommerce sales to grow, there’s still work to be done to improve the overall accuracy of user interactions. Voice assistants will need to deliver a consistent experience that meets human expectations (which, by the way, are as high as we would expect from other humans).

Virgin Trains, as you might expect, are early to the party. They were the first travel provider to create an Alexa skill that allows passengers with Amazon Pay to book advance tickets.

The reviews have been largely positive from passengers who find it easy to use and a helpful addition to their lives.

Similarly, both Sainsbury’s and Morrisons have empowered users to add items to their trolley through an Alexa skill. In this instance, the shopper can review their trolley on a screened device before the final purchase is made, so it’s not a start-to-finish purchase entirely through voice.

So, will voice search alone ever be a top source of ecommerce sales for a business?

The answer is yes, it probably will. But there are some points to consider.

1. Complex and significant purchases will still require a screen.

It’s unlikely that voice search will ever deliver complex or significant purchases. This includes the sale of products that typically have a long customer journey to purchase such as cars, houses and major holidays. The reason I say major holidays is that I can see short breaks or repeat bookings of previous destinations booked through a voice assistant in the near future. So, if you provide weekend breaks and target young professionals, getting an Action on Google or an Alexa Skill should be in your marketing strategy for 2019.

2. As the accuracy of query interpretation grows, so will trust.

As users see that their conversational expectations are being accurately met, trust in the communication medium will grow. One stat from estimated that only 2% of Amazon Echo owners have made a purchase using it. Part of that reticence to say ‘buy’ is due to sharing private information through this channel, but also trust in the information that’s being returned.

3. The shelf will always be invisible through voice.

Users will have to rely on their listening skills to assess whether or not they are purchasing the right product. This is probably going to be less favourable when researching product options than visual, screened options. However, in the earlier example of purchasing a book, a shopper can ask for exactly the title they are looking for, probably having seen or read about it elsewhere. The role of the voice search is to locate the item and purchase it with minimal effort. For transactions of this nature, I predict that sales will grow exponentially over the next 12 months.


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