OK Google Goes Shopping

Like the captain of the Starship Enterprise, we too can now ask a computer for information by talking to it. We can even order tea, Earl Grey, though maybe not at the preferred temperature just yet. As voice activation is being directed toward shopping, there are new opportunities for marketers to explore.

With Siri, Cortana, Alexa, or the Google Assistant available, voice activation and queries have become an integral part of smartphones and smart home technology. According to Thrive Analytics, voice search among smartphone user hit 65 percent in 2015 in the US. That’s more than double what it was just two years before, which indicates a very rapid rate of growth. The voice control option is also growing  among users of smart home products

Taking note of this trend, Google is now nudging its Google Home customers to start using their voices for shopping. It recently announced that Google Assistant could not be used by people with Google Home to order a variety of products from over 50 participating Google Express retailers. Google users could just say, “OK Google, order paper towels,” hear the options for the participating sellers and confirm the sale with a “Yes.” 

If the novelty of voice ordering is not attractive enough to induce customers to try it, Google is throwing in the extra incentive of no added charges through the end of April. Even the Costco access fee is waived for nonmembers ordering through Google Home during the promotional period.

From a marketing perspective, this additional incentive to use voice for shopping means that there is a new avenue for getting customers’ attention. Certainly, Google has much to gain in becoming the gateway for customers who prefer to order via voice, as it will gather data, not just on which items they order that way, but how often, from which stores, and in response to which promotions. 

That’s very valuable data that can be used for more effective marketing.

Say that a Google Home customer has established a pattern of responding to rebates and buying Bounty paper towels every six weeks. That gives insight into when and how that customer would be most receptive to marketing: the opportune time for a rival brand of paper towels to try to attract their attention with a rebate on its product, just when the customer would be thinking about placing another order. Should the customer prove completely loyal to the Bounty brand, instead of offering a substitute product it would be possible to offer a complementary product like glass cleaner.

The straightforward data on purchases and responses is only part of the marketing story for voice, though. As not all orders are as clearly identified as paper towels, sometimes just figuring out exactly what the customer is after can be somewhat complicated.  

As Amine Bentahar, a partner at Advantix Digital, points out, it’s a whole different SEO ballgame — due to the way people tend to express their voice queries in more conversational ways, using more words, than they do their text searches. While AI plays a role in improving the computer’s understanding of what the person intends, it’s not yet a perfect process. “This all means that in order to attract customers, SEO agency executives must be open to trying new things,” Bentahar says. That could include “focusing SEO efforts on more long-tail keywords and full phrases.”

For example, our Google Home customer may just say, “OK Google, I need to do spring cleaning.” If It fails to recognize that “spring” and “cleaning” are not to be taken as two separate things, there could be some confusion on the system end. But if it does grasp that the term means that the person want to do more than just tidy up, it could register a signal for marketing  to them everything from paper towels to vacuum cleaners.

Given that people tend to say more via voice than with their typed shopping queries, they will, inevitably, be sharing more information that marketers can capitalize on. Those that adapt accordingly will reap the rewards.

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