Shopping with Siri

Regardless of how sexy Apple and Google make smartphone user interfaces, they will always be limited by their screen size.  That is until you consider some of  the other capabilities of the smartphone, such as image and voice recognition.  Last year Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, announced our entry into the age of augmented humanity and the recent release of of the iPhone 4S has been an incredible example.

Using the Google app on my iPhone 4 (yeah, I'm not looking to upgrade yet), I can search using voice recognition.  For example, when I say "ASICS running shoes" a search is performed which renders lots of results, including where I can buy those shoes nearby.  And that brings up an important concept: the search is contextually aware.  It knew my location and was able to infer "nearby" in my request.

Amazon's Price Check app lets you search for product information by scanning the UPC, snapping a picture, or by saying the product using your iPhone.  Again, saying "ASICS running shoes" returned lots of matching products, albeit without any context.  How easy is that?

So not being one to be left behind, Apple bought a start-up (a spin-off from the Stanford Research Institute) called Siri and the rest is history the future. While Siri is not general purpose, I don't think the day when we have easy access to Watson and Wolfram Alpha is far off.

So what does this mean for retailers?  In the not-too-distant future you can expect to see shoppers asking their phones "is there a better price nearby?" and "what will this blouse look like on me?" and "is this compatible with the camera I bought last year?"  Product information will continue to be easier to access, be of better quality, and be personalized and contextual.  Here are three things retailers must do in order to remain competitive:

1. Make sure you are a trusted provider of information to your customers.  Share pricing, promotions, reviews, origin, content/ingredients, recalls, compatibility, etc. with your customers.  They are going to get this information anyway, so it might as well come from you.

2. You can't win on price anymore.  With perfect access to information, it will be too easy to find the lowest price for any particular item.  Its better to differentiate on convenience, service, and exclusivity.  (And its no accident that's Apple's model.)

3. Get serious about loyalty.  The younger generations are less concerned about privacy and more interested in relevancy.  Every interaction is a chance to provide personalized service.

In this age of augmented humanity, embrace Siri and don't be a HAL.


This is an enjoyable essay and a relevant heads-up tale for retailers, indeed. Additionally, while I appreciate the use of the attention-grabbing and universally recognized symbol of HAL's camera eye, it seems to me that your closing line is skewed in the opposite direction from that I expected. In the age of augmented humanity, by embracing Siri, one is actually enjoying some of the rudimentary functions of HAL. Perhaps a more tantalizing closing line is: "...embrace Siri--don't worry, Siri isn't HAL... yet!"

Ironically, the Wikipedia article even notes, "Capabilities such as natural language processing, lip reading, and commonsense reasoning on the part of computers were still science fiction, although some advances in natural language processing can be seen in the Siri software in iPhone 4S."

Thanks for another enjoyable entry in your retailing blog.

Posted by Bernard A. on October 25, 2011 at 06:53 AM PDT #

Bernard, I read that originally the company was going to name the project "HAL" but decided not to because of the connotations. (Recall HAL murdered everyone, regardless of whether it was his fault.) Whenever I think of HAL, I think of "I'm sorry Dave, I can't do that" which is the opposite of Siri. Anyway, that's what I was thinking.

Posted by David on October 25, 2011 at 06:57 AM PDT #

Nicely said, David. It's an exciting time to be in retail, unless you don't want things to change.'s disconcerting. But change will still happen.

Posted by Paula Rosenblum on October 25, 2011 at 08:39 AM PDT #

And so it begins:

Posted by Tom on November 22, 2011 at 12:03 PM PST #

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