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Are we ready for voice shopping… and are the virtual assistants ready?

By Chris Dawson May 10, 2018 - 7:14 pm

On of the delights of ChannelAdvisor Catalyst is always the opportunity to get updates on the latest tech and this year ChannelAdvisor CEO David Spitz turned his thoughts to voice shopping on virtual assistants.

There are three main virtual assistants on the market – Amazon’s Alexa on Echo devices, Google Assistant on Google Home and Apple Siri on their HomePod device.

According to YouGov, 71% of users play music on their virtual assistants with 58% using them to answer general questions and 49% use their devices as an alarm clock. Checking the news and weather is done by 47% of users but only 9% currently use a virtual assistant to order products online.

The slow take up in the UK of voice orders isn’t particularly surprising. At Catalyst, David Spitz demonstrated trying to order products on all three of the main virtual assistants. The Apple HomePod was a total dud – it didn’t even appear to understand that David was trying to place an order. Google Home made a decent stab at placing the order but wanted David to log into the Google Home App to complete payment details. Try placing an order on Amazon Echo however and it’s a breeze and not only was the order placed by Alexa responded with estimated delivery dates in addition to the basic order confirmation.

Currently in the UK the situation is even worse as Google haven’t enabled shopping on Google Home, so if it’s shopping by voice that you want your one and only choice is the Amazon Echo and that means you’ll be shopping on Amazon.

Following David’s keynote, eBay UK VP Rob Hattrell took to the stage and was a little dismissive of voice shopping. It’s not something that eBay are ignoring he explained mentioning eBay’s integration with Google Assistant on Google Home (which as it happens is also not live in the UK yet but is in the US and Australia). Rob asserted that image search is much further advanced than voice search and that this is where you can expect the biggest advances on eBay in the near future. Voice search, according to Rob, is only useful for mundane items which are easy to describe – batteries or kitchen towels in David’s demonstrations. Rob pointed out that for many products it’s difficult to describe the item (e.g. the style of dress or handbag you want to find) and that’s why eBay have invested heavily in Artificial Intelligence to power image search.

Image search and eBay’s related ‘Find it on eBay’ service also aren’t yet live in the UK, but there are several implementations of ‘Shop the look’ including on eBay’s partnership with Mashable.

It would appear that Image Search is here today but whilst voice search is here it’s not attracting mainstream widespread usage yet… and that could well be because the only seamless voice shopping experience is on Amazon Echo whether you’re in the UK or the US.

  • james
    2 years ago

    How many times have you gone up the high street with a photo in your hand?
    “i saw THIS shirt in a magazine, i don’t need that specific shirt, but something that looks similar will do”.

    for me that number is zero. never happened. don’t intend for it to happen.
    if there’s a shirt i want (or any other item), i’m happy to know my own tastes, and go browsing for something similar.
    I can narrow my search by only going to stores that sell shirts, or asking an assistant where the shirts are in a larger store.
    I don’t see why i’d suddenly change my entire thinking when i apply this to online shopping, do I forget how to browse, or suitably narrow a search?

    there are a few, rare examples, where image search would be sufficiently beneficial to be used before text search or browsing, and those few examples are usually necessitated by ignorance “i don’t know the name of the thing i want, or how to describe it, or how to tie my laces, but i know i want it, whatever it is!”
    – this person is probably going to fail at providing a suitable image to work well with image search anyway – “here are results of shirts with someone’s finger over the lens” / “here are shirts with screenshots of your mobile phone battery & signal level” / “here are badly pixellated shirts”.
    so for the few rare times its useful, for the few people who would need it, is it worth it?
    no. same as voice search.

  • northumbrian
    2 years ago

    shopping by voice could be very expensive if you have a child who knows what it wants

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