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Voice Ordering != Voice Shopping

Voice Ordering is Here

Voice shopping is coming, and it’s far more interesting.

Siri has been with us for years, but it’s in the last few months and largely due to Amazon that voice assistants have won rapid adoption and heightened awareness.

Over the last few months, we’ve been shown the power of a new interaction paradigm. I have an Echo Dot and I love it. Controlling media and some lights are the most useful applications so far. The Rock, Paper, Scissors skill… yeah, that one’s probably not going to see as much use.

But let’s not forget that this slick device is brought to us by the most dominant ecommerce business in the known universe. So it’s great for voice shopping, right? No. Not at all. It doesn’t do “shopping” at all.

But I heard the story about the six-year-old who ordered herself a dollhouse? So did I, and it reinforces my point. Let me explain.

The current state of commerce via Alexa is almost like a broad set of voice-operated Dash Buttons. For quick reorders of things you buy regularly and when you’re not interested in price comparisons, it’s fine. What it’s not — voice shopping.

Shopping is an exercise in exploration, research, and comparison. That experience requires a friendly and intelligent guide. As such, voice shopping isn’t supported by the ubiquitous directive-driven (do X, response, end) voice assistants.

Shopping is about feature and price comparison, consideration of reviews, suggestions from smart recommendation engines, and more. Voice shopping is enabled by a conversational voice experience, one that understands history and context, and delivers a far richer experience than is widely available today.


The Mobile Impact

Mobile commerce isn’t new and is still growing fast. But despite consumers spending far more time on mobile devices than on desktops (broadly defined, including laptops), small screen ecommerce spending still lags far behind.

So why can’t merchants close on mobile? The small screen presents numerous challenges.

Small screens make promotion difficult and negatively impact upselling and cross-selling. Another major factor, one you’ve probably experienced, is the often terrible mobile checkout process. Odds are, you’ve abandoned a mobile purchase path after fiddling with some poorly designed forms. I have. Maybe you went back via your laptop. Maybe you didn’t. Either way, that’s terrible user experience.

Through voice, retailers can now bring a human commerce experience to the small screen. It’s a new, unparalleled engagement opportunity; a chance to converse with your customer, capture real intelligence about their needs, and offer just the right thing. It’s an intelligent personal shopper in the hands of every customer.


Come reimagine voice shopping with us. Imagine product discovery and comparison, driven by voice. Imagine being offered just what you were looking for, based on a natural language description of what you need. Imagine adjusting your cart with your voice. Imagine entering your payment and shipping info quickly and seamlessly, via voice. It’s all possible and it’s coming soon.

 

Watson’s Reckoning

Watson’s Reckoning

To most in the know, IBM’s Watson has long been considered more hype and marketing than technical reality. Presented as infinitely capable, bleeding edge technology, you might think the well-known Watson brand would be delivering explosive growth to IBM.

Reality is far different. IBM’s stock is down in a roaring market. The company is, in effect, laying off thousands of workers by ending its work-from-home policy. More than $60M has perhaps been wasted by MD Anderson on a failed Watson project. All of this is happening against the backdrop of a rapidly expanding market for Machine Learning solutions.

But why? I saw Watson dominate on Jeopardy.

And dominate it did, soundly beating Ken Jennings and Brad Reuter. So think for a moment about what Watson was built to do. Watson, as was proven then, is a strong Q&A engine. It does a fine job in this realm and was truly state of the art…in 2011. In this rapidly-expanding corner of the tech universe, that’s an eternity ago. The world has changed exponentially, and Watson hasn’t kept pace.

So what’s wrong with Watson?

  • It’s not the all-encompassing answer to all businesses. It offers some core competencies in Natural Language and other domains, but Watson, like any Machine Learning tech, and perhaps more than most, requires a high degree of customization to do anything useful. As such, it’s a brand around which Big Blue sells services. Expensive services.
  • The tech is now old. The bleeding edge of Machine Learning is Deep Learning, leveraging architectures Watson isn’t built to support.
  • The best talent is going elsewhere. With the next generation of tech leaders competing for talent, IBM is now outgunned.
  • …and much more discussed here.

The Machine Learning market is strong and growing. IBM has been lapped by Google, Facebook, and other big-name companies, and these leaders are open sourcing much of their work.

Will Watson survive? Time will tell.