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Look Who’s Talking Now

One of the fun things we do at Glenbrook is help clients think through product concepts in financial services, commerce, and payments. An intriguing area that I’ve been thinking about and watching closely over the years is voice-activated purchasing.

My interest in “voice” stems from my belief that as microprocessors get smaller and faster, the user interface as we know it will fade into the background. The visual display will go away, the tap and swipe interface will go away, and you will simply talk with devices in a conversational way.

I termed this “conversational commerce” several years ago when I was describing how voice-based personal assistants might someday help us make on-the-fly purchases. While there has been steady progress, things are starting to heat up and I’m getting excited about the concept again.

First, all the major technologies providers are now out on the playing field. What was only Apple Siri four years ago, has expanded to a broader lineup of services that include Google Now, Microsoft Cortana, and Amazon Echo. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. No arguing that. Some do a better job than others answering trivia questions. But that’s not the point. I’m interested in which ones are going to help consumers buy things.

Siri has made some progress on the commerce front. Through private integrations with Shazam and Fandango, there is now a clear “buy” vocabulary. Siri can use Shazam to recognize a song, and the “buy” command will take you to that song in the iTunes Store. But you still have to tap to buy, so we’re not quite there yet. Likewise, Siri can help find local movie venues and times, but you still have to tap the “buy” button in Fandango to finalize the ticket purchase. I’m looking forward to the day when “buy” means buy and not help-me-tap-to-purchase.

The flaw in this example is not really specific to Fandango. It’s that after four years, Siri is still a closed service that doesn’t permit third party apps to integrate to a voice command API. And with all due respect to Apple, it’s going to be third parties that are really going to drive conversational commerce.

In this regard, Amazon has made the greatest strides with the release of Amazon Echo into beta and the launch of a third-party SDK for developers. If you are not familiar with Amazon Echo, take a quick look at this video. You’ll get the idea.

Cuteness aside, it’s easy to see why Amazon wants to extends its own voice command assistant into your home. It’s already making headway with Amazon Dash, and now the new Amazon Dash Button, as a way to help customers instantly order common household consummables.

Echo does provide built-in support for card-on-file purchases and setting controls for “1-click” purchasing — effectively what we know as Amazon Payments. It’s somewhat ironic that the one thing missing in 1-click purchasing is the “click’. It’s really 1-command purchasing. So far, this commerce capability is only used to sell music from the Amazon’s digital music store. But I have to believe that Amazon is going to marry Echo and Dash to support voice-activated ordering of products from Amazon.

While that might be interesting for Amazon buyers, what I find more encouraging is the announcement of a beta SDK program for third-party developers. While the SDK is not yet public, the intention to make is public is clear. Just last week there was an IFTTT integration done to support linking Echo with Twitter, Gmail, Evernote, Todoist and Nest. Earlier, there were some private integrations done for several of smart-device manufacturers.

So there is progress. While we’re not quite there yet on conversational commerce, the building blocks are falling into place. I’m very encouraged.

What do you think?

This post was written by Glenbrook’s Russ Jones.


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Constantine Firun
6 years ago

Russ, thanks for great article on ‘conversational commerce’.
Technology has matured enough to bring people back the natural way of communicating – simply with voice without keyboards and other complicated stuff.
The only problem for ‘conversational commerce’ which I see is lack of voice authentication technologies. There are bunch of technologies on the market (including our company), but none of them are used yet for daily life situations like Amazon Echo offers.
Coming years will be interesting to watch and see how ‘conversational commerce’ eats the world and makes bank cards out-dated 🙂