Friendly computer voices that remind you to reorder toothpaste or pick up milk are no longer science fiction. Used smartly, they can even help you organise your life more efficiently and more sustainably.
Mr. Sharma, how will voice AI change the way we shop?
Amit Sharma: My company conducted a survey in the US last year and found that 29% of the people who own devices like Google Home or the Echo use them to shop. And 41% plan to do so in the near future. Voice AI is, in fact, on the verge of becoming just another channel. A very convenient one, since most people have it already on their phones. Now it’s just a question of retailers catching up and using this channel to inspire loyalty. Walmart teamed up with Google Home last year, for example, so Google Assistant can now scan your purchase history and ask, “Do you want to reorder Colgate toothpaste for $2.99?” It can also suggest you buy floss at a discount; and with a one-word response, you’re done.
Sounds like retailers have already caught up.
Amit Sharma: There is a lot more to come. Voice AI has a lot more potential. if you have a digital shopping list, for example, voice AI can help you organise your life. They can say, “Hey, I notice that you have milk on your list and you’re about to pass by a grocery store. Would you like to pick it up now?” Voice AI will also make our supply chain a lot more efficient.
Amit Sharma: Today, consumers order products very haphazardly. When you see a gadget that needs batteries, you order them. An hour later, you realise you need new socks, you order them. After all, buying is easy, particularly on your phone. But if you have a voice AI device reminding you, all of these spur-of-the-moment orders can be combined and collated – and could be delivered in one package, not 10 different ones.
Streamline the way we shop
That would reduce package volumes, but increase consumer convenience.
Amit Sharma: Indeed. While it’s good to be reminded to get milk and batteries, you do not want the device to nag you every hour, but only once or twice a day. That way, your AI assistant can compile a list of things you want to order …
That reminds me of the shopping list on my mother’s kitchen table. She writes everything down and then goes to the stores once a week.
Amit Sharma: Exactly. And if you really need something urgently, well, then you order it. But if we’re honest: If you look at what we’re buying, 80% of our purchases can wait for a few days. Voice AI can be a great marketing tool, but it can also can serve as a gatekeeper against impulsive shopping.
And make life easier for the supply chain.
Amit Sharma: And a lot more efficient. And more sustainable. Look at the packaging we consume for every order! And if you can organise your life for once a week delivery, you can so the same for returns as well. Your AI assistant can ask which items you’re returning and why, and then email you a form to review and print. You can collect everything you want to return in one box and then the delivery person that comes to bring your orders can just take it with him.
What other impacts do you see for the logistics sector? Hermes UK customers can already track their parcels via Alexa and Google Home.
Amit Sharma: The next step would be to give AI devices more control in rerouting packages. AI devices can notice, for example, if you are not at home at the estimated time of delivery. It can offer to have your order shipped to where you are or ask whether you want to hold the shipment until you return. It should be a simple “yes” or “no” question, as the devices should be intelligent enough to pick all the pieces up and do the rest.
More control over deliveries with AI
Could voice AI also help improve efficiency in the supply chain itself?
Amit Sharma: Good question. My expertise is more on the consumer’s side, not on the driver’s side, but my instinct tells me that constant voice messages could prove to be distraction for the driver. But, think of a world where packages are delivered by autonomous vehicles – five, seven years from now. Then you could have real-time conversations and give them commands. They do not get distracted.
How can delivery companies stay ahead of the changes that are sure to come as we enter the era of predictive retail?
Amit Sharma: It’s easy to predict that customers will order replacements of certain products. And if consumers know that you will be making the rounds in their neighbourhoods on certain times, they might even give you access to their homes. Today, when the weather is bad, the items sit outside. But if I know that Hermes will come between 14-15 pm, I can give a one-time access. Because I have the confidence. All of these things will only happen if consumers have confidence.
We’re going back to the traditional shopping list – and the traditional milk man making the rounds of the neighbourhoods and delivering milk to my doorstep.
Amit Sharma: Yes – and that milkman will know that you only need milk every two days. So he’ll personalise his route and come only Mondays and Wednesdays. And to my house, I have three kids, he will come every day of the week. He will know when to stop and when not to. So yes, we are going back to how commerce was conducted one hundred years ago, but now we are making it scalable to people’s individual needs.
Getting personal with Siri and Google Home
Looking at AI like this might make people less wary. In Europe especially, a lot of consumers are sceptical of allowing devices that much access to their personal data.
Amit Sharma: Back in the days with the milkman, it was more personal, but you gave away a lot of personal information as well. The milkman would have known when you were on holidays, when someone was ill at your house or when a new baby arrived. You had to trust him with all of that information so that he could do his job well. The new technology is just the same. It is there to make your life more convenient. The difference is, that you can control it and decide, which information goes where. The more data you share, the more purposeful and relevant these devices will be.
Thank you for your time.
Amit Sharma is the founder and CEO of Narvar, an enterprise-grade customer experience platform which helps retailers inspire loyalty beyond reason by enabling seamless post-purchase experiences. Previously, he spent decades shaping retail operations as an executive at companies like Apple & Walmart.