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The Voice-Enabled Store

Christopher Sarne
Senior Director Product Management Strategy

The term “conversational commerce” emerged about three years ago to describe exactly what it sounds like: doing business by having a conversation, either via a chat bot or simply by speaking aloud. Consumers began to get used to the idea with mobile phone features such as the iPhone’s Siri, and Amazon’s Echo Alexa, introduced in 2015, has taken voice-controlled commands, including internet browsing and buying, to another level.

In a recent report by Mastercard and Mercator Advisory Group, 66% of U.S. consumers use voice or text agents in their daily lives, and 21% use voice or text agents to shop, pay bills, bank online or send money. This figure is likely to go higher, since consumer awareness of conversational commerce is climbing: 87% of shoppers are aware of these technologies and are beginning to grasp their benefits [Source: Retail Touchpoints]. How can retailers adapt to benefit from this significant shift in consumer behavior?

Voice-Controlled Order Management Support

At Oracle, we anticipate that retailers will embrace conversational commerce and make widespread use of it from an order management standpoint, specifically with order inquiry and order maintenance. At the recent National Retail Federation conference and exhibit, for example, we demonstrated the ability to ask Google Home to look up an order in our order management system and modify the ship-to location. This is the kind of request that customers make, and customer service representatives execute, countless times per day, and the ability to automate it in this fashion, would be a significant time-saver to both parties.

By using a feedback loop to ensure details like address and delivery time are accurate, this technology is ideal for ordering staple or replenishment items and will soon do much more. Next, the technology will accommodate more complex requests, for example asking the assistant to “give me a pair of slacks that work with my oatmeal sweater, and have it to me by next Thursday.” New voice-control technologies will be rapidly adopted, given changing generational habits. My own young son, for example, stopped asking me questions about his homework some time ago; now he goes straight to Google to get his answers (faster and much more accurate). By the time he enters the workforce and has his own spending money, using a voice interface will be second nature to him, and artificial intelligence technology, presumably, will be much better at dealing with relatively unstructured requests.

Empowering Associates with On-the-Spot Inventory Access

Research tells us that 62% of consumers find the ability of store staff to source product stock from another location for delivery to home or local store as important to their shopping experiences. While 55% value the ability to check product stock on mobile while in store as desirable [Source: Retail in 4D]. These findings support the area of order entry where we see an almost immediate application for conversational commerce is the in-store exchange between a customer and an associate.

One of the major trends in store systems in recent years—and certainly a major area of emphasis for Oracle—has been to empower associates by giving them on-the-spot access to everything they need to know to successfully close a transaction. This includes customer history and preferences, accurate inventory data, and the entire range of shipping and fulfillment options, all ported to a mobile device in the associate’s hand.

It’s a short but potentially important step from the associate entering all the order information into a computer to his or her simply being able to say, “I’m looking for this style number in this size” into their headset and have the voice respond that it’s available in the distribution center or in this or that store

To learn more about empowering your store associates on the sales floor, check out:

The War for Talent: Store Associates Go Where The Technology Is

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