There’s no question: Voice search has become mainstream.
Voice-controlled virtual assistants have integrated into the fabric of everyday life — and as those tools become more capable, reliable sources of information, their popularity will only continue to grow.
‘That’s cool,’ you might be thinking. ‘But what does voice search have to do with e-commerce?’
As it turns out, quite a bit.
In this article, we dive deep into the voice search trend, revealing new opportunities for online sellers, delivering inspiration from big brands, and helping you take advantage of everything voice search has to offer.
The scoop on e-commerce voice search
- What’s the big deal with voice search?
- E-commerce voice search: What’s the opportunity for online retailers?
- Alexa dominates voice commerce
- E-commerce brands that are killing it with voice search
- How to optimize for voice search and commerce
- Search by voice may be the future of e-commerce
What’s the big deal with voice search? 🗣
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know what voice search is. If you aren’t familiar, it’s exactly what it sounds like the ability to conduct a search using your voice.
Simple? Yes. Powerful? Double yes.
And it’s on a dramatic rise:
- 65% of consumers aged 25-49 talk to their voice-enabled devices on a daily basis.
- Among people who own voice-activated speakers, 72% use them as part of their daily routine (and there are more than 200 million of these devices across the globe).
- 43% of people shop online via voice-enabled devices.
- Smart speaker sales are expected to surpass tablet sales in 2021.
- 55% of households will use smart speakers by 2022.
- 58% of consumers find local businesses using voice-activated search.
Why consumers love voice search
So what’s driving all this popularity?
Two words: Efficiency and convenience.
Consider the amount of time it takes to type out a search query (especially on a tiny smartphone keyboard). Statistically speaking, the average person types at a speed of 40 words per minute. Our speaking rate, on the other hand, is about 150 words per minute — nearly 4X faster.
But speed isn’t the only thing that makes voice search so darn popular.
Because voice search is a hands-free activity, it’s very easy to ask a question and get an answer while you’re multitasking — especially helpful if your hands are otherwise occupied by things like cooking or playing a game.
Another advantage virtual assistants bring to the table is an increased level of personalization. These tools are deeply integrated into their parent ecosystems (Amazon, Google, and Apple) which allows them to access data about your appointments, to-do list, shopping behavior, and other habits.
Combined with the powers of AI and machine learning, virtual assistants and voice search have the ability to deliver even more effective and personalized search results and suggestions.
E-commerce voice search: What’s the opportunity for online retailers?
Voice-controlled virtual assistants are opening a whole new world of opportunity for retailers — and this technology is still so new that we’ve barely scratched the surface of what it can do.
With that said, there are two main categories of opportunity for retailers, which we’ll distinguish as voice search and voice commerce.
The first area of opportunity with voice is at the top of the funnel — simply providing customers with all-important info.
Voice search is well-suited for quick answers rather than drawn-out explanations because most users find it harder to retain auditory information than visual info. It’s also incredibly convenient (and safer) for users who are multitasking — say, chopping vegetables or driving in the car.
But it’s not so great for thorough research and comparing options (the way you might when shopping online).
For this reason, your goals with voice search will likely center on top-of-funnel, informational content. Concise, high-quality information can help you build customer relationships and establish your brand as a go-to resource. Then, when customers are ready to seek out a product or make a purchase, they’ll know who to turn to.
One brand that’s a shining example of this strategy is Johnnie Walker. Their voice apps for Google Home and Alexa provide personalized whisky and cocktail recommendations, a guided tasting experience, and random facts about their company and whisky in general. And yes — they’ll even point you to the nearest place to buy a bottle. 🥃
Because of the ease and convenience voice-enabled devices offer, there’s also an opportunity for retailers to create an entirely new shopping experience.
In 2020, consumer buying habits shifted dramatically as people were forced to find new ways to shop safely. Now, many have grown accustomed to a digital-first shopping experience — and voice search has the potential to set a whole new standard of convenience, personalization, and accessibility.
Enter ‘Voice commerce’.
Voice commerce is when customers search for and purchase products online using voice commands. This shopping experience can reduce the amount of time customers spend between deciding to buy something and completing their purchase.
One of the weaknesses of virtual assistants is they’re not necessarily the best tool for discovering products. Online retailers already face the challenge of creating effective descriptions and product images to help shoppers feel confident about purchases when they can’t handle a physical product.
But buying an item that you haven’t even seen pictured? That feels riskier than a blind date. 🙅
That’s why the real strength of voice commerce is enabling customers to complete transactions after they’ve already added an item to their cart or wish list. It’s also well-suited to consumable products that customers purchase over and over again — when they already know they like a product, they don’t need to research it every time.
Alexa dominates voice commerce
As of 2021, Alexa is the only voice assistant that actually enables customers to directly buy products using voice commands. Any other assistant will require you to complete the purchase on a laptop or mobile device.
Alexa users can easily buy items from Amazon because the device is already connected to their Amazon account. Brands also have the opportunity to create a customized app called an Alexa Skill that customers can activate on their devices to enable unique capabilities.
Google offers similar apps called Actions for Google Assistant. But while customers can engage with brands in a variety of ways using these apps, they can’t currently make purchases directly via voice command.
E-commerce brands that are killing it with voice commerce
Many popular brands leverage voice commerce through voice-activated devices, Alexa skills, and Google actions. Here are a few big-name voice commerce trailblazers:
Domino’s Pizza: The Undisputed Leader in Omnichannel Selling
Regardless of your opinion on pineapple pizza (Team🍍 here!), you’ve got to respect Domino’s for their incredible innovation and use of technology to drive sales in the most unexpected omnichannel way possible.
Since 2014, Domino’s has enabled voice technology to make ordering pizza and tracking your delivery as easy as possible via mobile devices or smart speakers. But honestly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The Inside Scoop: Domino’s is #goals
Talk about upping the ante. Domino’s has made it possible for customers to order via Slack, Facebook Messenger, car, and smart TV, by texting nothing more than a pizza slice 🍕 emoji, sending a tweet, or simply opening their app (they’ll start working on your go-to order within 10 seconds if you don’t stop them — zero clicks necessary).
Now that’s what we call #goals.
Contacts are a great example of a product customers need to purchase over and over again. Discount Contacts takes advantage of this through their Alexa Skill — and they even offer customers an extra 10% discount for voice orders.
With Rothy’s Alexa Skill, customers can buy the brand’s beloved eco-friendly shoes, check order status, and purchase loyalty program points. It’s easy to find the perfect fit by selecting design, size, color, and all other specifications verbally.
Levi’s has doubled down on voice search with apps for both Alexa and Google. Their apps provide answers to questions about everything from finding the right pair of jeans to finding the nearest store and learning about promotions to tracking orders.
Etsy and eBay
E-commerce marketplaces Etsy and eBay leverage the power of ‘Hey, Google’ to help users navigate their respective mobile apps hands-free on Android devices. Customers can easily use voice commands to browse products, check order status, and make purchases.
Booking a ride to the airport (or wherever else the world takes you) is even easier when you can request it via voice. Customers who already have the Lyft app downloaded on their Android device just need to ask Google.
Beauty brand Clairol is empowering customers with information and inspiration about hair color. From finding the perfect shade to step-by-step hair coloring guidance, users just have to talk to Google. (A true lifesaver when their hands are covered in hair dye 👩🎤).
FYI, you don’t need to create an app to be successful
These big names might make it seem like you need to build a custom app to compete with voice commerce, but that isn’t the case. There are tons of ways to successfully leverage voice search for your business. We’ll show you how.
How to optimize for voice search and commerce
One of the most important things to remember about voice search is that the odds of connecting with customers are drastically reduced if you’re not in the top spot. It’s not like the SERPs where customers might see your link in the second or third spot and click through.
With voice search, if you’re not #1 they may not even know you’re an option. It’s like ‘Position Zero’ on steroids. So keep your expectations in check if you’re going to pursue this sales channel.
That said, as voice search becomes a more common part of modern life, it’ll also become an even more important part of your SEO strategy.
So how do you make sure your site, store, and marketplace listings are optimized for voice search and voice commerce?
Most importantly… focus on your product detail pages!
Perhaps it goes without saying, but product pages are more important than any other part of your voice commerce strategy. Without a great product page, all your other efforts are, well, not worth the effort.
Your product detail pages should be filled with rich content that helps your customers — and Alexa — find exactly what they’re looking for.
Here are a few key areas to focus on:
- Product title: This is the most crucial, identifying piece of info for your product. For voice commerce, remember that Alexa will be reading the title aloud, so don’t get too technical if you don’t have to.
- Product description & highlights: While it may not directly impact your product ranking, descriptive copy will help Amazon/Alexa understand your product better. Informative text that reads naturally is vital.
- Keywords: Although you can only select up to five keywords, you can get more value by using combinations of descriptive words in each field, rather than just a single keyword.
- Structured data: Alexa uses structured data to narrow in on the most relevant result for voice search queries. The more info you can provide about your products through structured data, the more likely your products are to be presented to the right customer.
Identify user intent
With voice search, the customer’s intent is purely informational — they want to know something. Voice commerce is different — the customer’s intent is transactional, meaning they want to do (or buy) something.
Where intent varies, your optimization strategies may vary too. So where should you focus first?
Well, for one thing, if you’re not selling on Amazon your focus should be entirely on informational intent and voice search because voice commerce isn’t an option.
If you are an Amazon seller, you can optimize for Alexa, but consider a few things before going all-in. For example:
- What does your customer demographic look like? If your customers aren’t typically tech-savvy, you shouldn’t expect them to be early adopters of voice commerce.
- What price point are you catering to? Customers are less likely to purchase high-ticket items via voice command.
- Does your product have a lot of competition? Unless you’re already winning the Buy Box a large percentage of the time, you might struggle to get purchases through Alexa.
- How is your brand recognition? If you already have a good volume of branded search traffic, you might be a strong candidate for voice search.
While these questions might make it seem like only elite Amazon sellers should invest in voice commerce, that’s totally not the case.
In fact, many of the strategies you use to succeed in other areas — including voice search, SEO, customer service, and more — will also help prepare your brand to succeed with voice commerce.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether it’ll be your primary focus or not.
Tune in to natural language
Modern culture has adapted us to the language of search engines. Even average users are fluent in precise searching techniques like Boolean operators — and online businesses are skilled at optimizing for the best search keywords.
But voice search demands a different approach. (And frankly, no one wants to be heard saying, ‘Alexa, hotel AND Spain AND beach OR spa!’ 😂)
When optimizing for voice search, you’ll still use keywords, but it’s more important than ever to use natural language — including questions and phrases — that your customers will use.
To leverage voice search, you’ll need to create additional content outside of your product pages to provide answers to potential customer questions. Depending on your business, you might use an FAQ page and/or a blog to present that content and make it available for search engines and virtual assistants.
Leverage customer reviews and questions
Product reviews can provide massive value for your business — and this extends to voice applications as well. Just as reviews can help boost your SEO, improve the customer experience, and drive sales, they can also help your products appear more frequently in voice search and voice commerce.
You should also take the time to respond to reviews and answer any customer questions — these will also support your voice search optimization. Alexa may even use your responses if a potential customer asks a similar question about your product.
Search by voice may be the future of e-commerce
Looking at the current trends, it’s not hard to imagine a future where most consumer searches and purchases begin with voice — and there’s no question that the capabilities of voice-controlled technology are growing stronger every day.
From answering customer questions at the top of the funnel to delivering a completely frictionless purchasing experience, there are many ways that online retailers can take advantage of this emerging e-commerce voice search technology to build their brand and increase sales.
Whether you choose to dive in on a voice commerce strategy or not, be sure to keep an eye on this trend. 👀 It’s not going anywhere.