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‘Ok Google- tell me about voice search’: how retailers are talking to customers

In the age of AI, engaging with our technology is no longer a case of only typing buttons. Voice has become a welcome addition to the user experience. Sending a message, playing a song, and buying clothes is now as easy as talking to a friend. As AI technology improves these interactions, consumers all over the world will be listening to those brands who can effectively tap into the latest technologies. The early champions of new interfaces and technology are changing both the retail landscape and the behaviours of its customers. Understanding the modern customer means understanding what they want from their interactions with brands.

Asos, the popular fashion e-retailer, has done just that and found its voice in this new technological era. Through the adoption of voice search technology on its site, Asos is encouraging customers to talk their way to stylish looks, providing a newer, easier way to find that perfect outfit. This is being executed through Enki: Asos’s virtual shopping guide, which launched on Google Assistant late last year.

With 87,000 products available to customers at any one time – and 5,000 new items being added every week – it can be hard not to get lost in a sea of endless floral print dresses and t-shirts. However, thanks to advancements in natural language processing, how consumers search is evolving. Through its adoption of voice search, and particularly of Enki, Asos is placing its customers at the heart of its mission to improve the customer experience by enabling them to find what they want, quickly and accurately.

As millennials continue to be the early champions of voice interactions, their expectations as shoppers are increasing. The future success of eCommerce and retail brands depends on how well they listen to their customers, and how ready they are to embrace their demands. Asos has recognised that a good search experience is directly correlated to how much they enjoy interacting with the brand. In future search will enable the retailer to create experiences that are ever more intuitive and natural for the customer. Connecting customers to relevant products will become as easy and accurate as possible.

For Asos, reducing friction through the use of emerging technologies is not a new initiative. Asos’s visual search tool, Style Match, led the way for the platforms changing retail experience by allowing customers to search using images. The customer doesn’t need to think about how to describe what they are seeing, and instead is connected straight to products that are visually similar.

Keywords v natural language

With the introduction of Enki, Asos was able to understand more of the context behind why a customer might be searching for something. When shoppers initiate a voice search, the query they have is often structured quite differently from the traditional text-based search. Keywords have long been the main form of search but with a voice interface, shoppers tend to talk to it in the same way they would talk with a friend. This isn't just Asos, almost 70% of queries to Google assistant are made in natural language – that is, people speaking in full sentences as opposed to the keyword searches we type into a search box.

For retailer brands looking to replicate the success of Enki, it’s crucial to first of all understand the consumer needs being addressed, then to build small, testable prototypes. It’s then important to ensure that you’re able to iterate quickly based on customer feedback, ensuring that the customer experience is always at the heart of the process.

Conversational commerce is changing how retail and eCommerce brands must function. It means that changes will need to be made to the basic elements of a retailer’s website. For instance, product titles and descriptions must be written in a way that reflects the conversational questions people ask. Retailers need to work closely with their customers in order to develop search and UX functions that meet their changing habits and demands and make their experiences as frictionless as possible.

No matter what the form of search, whether it’s visual or voice-powered, technology should be developed with one thing in mind – it’s all about helping the customer. And whilst Asos, like others, is making its play in this growing market, it must continue to recognise AI and voice-led search is nothing without someone to ask it a question. Good user experience will never go out of fashion.

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