Talking shop - how voice-activated technology is changing retail

Talking shop - how voice-activated technology is changing retail

Though brands have been using chatbots in retail and eCommerce for some time, their evolution into voice-activated smart assistants is predicted to have an even greater impact on the customer experience (CX). Hands-free and easy to use, they streamline the online shopping experience, open new opportunities for interaction in-store, and provide more personal, customer-driven interactions.

While online shopping has grown in popularity, browsing for the right products can be a time-consuming experience. In 2017, 43% of UK shoppers were found to have experienced information overload when purchasing items online[1]. AI-enabled chatbots that use voice activation can make the process much simpler, filtering out unwanted information and creating a faster and more streamlined purchasing experience.

A virtual assistant can find products in seconds and make recommendations based on the customer’s shopping history and preferences. The result is a swift, highly curated and personalised offer that not only makes it easier to shop but improves the way the customer connects with the brand.

Making it personal

As more people begin to use voice, its ability to deliver personalised recommendations will be of increasing importance. According to Accenture, 91% of shoppers prefer to shop with brands that remember them[2] and over 80% are willing to share data if it helps provide a personalised experience[3].

Available on smart speakers, wearables or smartphones, virtual assistants can now be accessed anywhere, with the best retail chatbots offering real-time advice on products, up-to-the minute information about availability, customer reviews and shipping details – all of which improve customer satisfaction and brand loyalty.

Seeing (and hearing) is believing

Devices like smartphones and the Amazon Echo Show, which offer both a voice assistant and a screen interface, provide the additional benefit of letting the customer see the product. This overcomes the barrier to selling higher value items which many consumers want to look at before making a purchase.

Voice also has a role in enhancing the in-store experience for consumers. Voice-activated merchandising, for example, offers consumers more opportunities to interact in-store, helping them find out more about products and offers as they shop. Smart assistants built into phones and wearables can also be used in-store to deliver a range of beneficial customer experiences, such as in-store product search and availability, product comparison, contactless payment and click and collect.

Going hands-free

Over 2020, the pandemic has increased demand for such hands-free interactions, with consumers looking for safer ways to shop that don’t involve picking items up, using touch screens or pressing buttons. Research from global retail innovation agency, Outform, found that 43% of shoppers want to see voice-activated solutions in stores, with 49% in favour of interactive merchandising[4]. While the deployment of these technologies can certainly be an advantage during these challenging times, they will continue to provide enhanced customer experiences once normality resumes.

As a pioneering organisation in retail communications, Paragon Customer Communications sees the emergence of voice activation as a unique opportunity for the sector. Voice-activated smart assistants enable consumers to interact effortlessly with brands at all points along the purchasing journey, whether at home or in-store.

At the same time, it gives brands the ability to provide highly personalised recommendations and product information in a convenient, easily digestible and customer-friendly way.

Bridging the gap

As digitally enabled experiences represent arguably the single most powerful driving force behind the growth of online retail, the capabilities of chatbots to create immersive and frictionless customer experiences could pave the way for the future of e-commerce.

With the potential to replace the tasks of human workers, while at the same time delivering optimum customer service and upselling potential for consumers, chatbot technology could be a true game-changer for retailers and customers alike.

Retail brands who can effectively integrate chatbot technology into their multichannel marketing mix, therefore, have a distinct opportunity to bridge the gap between online and offline shopping experiences and capitalise on the growth of online sales. Particularly as e-commerce sales are predicted to grow a further 5% by 2021, meaning they will soon make up 17.5% of total global retail sales[5].

Leanne Docherty


Leanne Docherty 
Account Director



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