Consumer-driven data helps retailers shout loudest in the era of voice

Visits to retailers’ websites are declining rapidly as the rise of immediate answer platforms like Google Maps, Alexa, Siri and Facebook form a blockade between brand and consumer.

As such, it’s more important than ever for retailers to make their proposition not just findable, but the best, according to Jon Buss, MD for UK and Northern Europe at Yext – a business that initially incepted as a ‘digital Yellow Pages’ and has since gone on to aid brands in their quest to be discoverable across the vast and complicated digital landscape.

“It’s all about what is best,” he affirms. “The best product, best solution, best service. What’s the best version of what I need near to me?

“The way that Google is determining the answer to this is not solely through a retailer’s website, but through all the reviews and ratings – data – that are out there. It’s not just a reputational thing as it has always been – you simply won’t be found if you’re not best.”

One company looking to help brands both simplify and overcome this challenge is HappyOrNot, the Finnish-borne idea behind the mood faces present at numerous service providers.

“It’s a marriage between the simplicity of consumer-use and the sophistication of brand insight,” explains the company’s founder, Ville Levaniemi. “In the world of customer feedback, online reviews require reflective, time consuming action, but this gives consumers the chance to offer candid, reactive opinions with the touch of a button; meanwhile retailers receive hour-by-hour, location-by-location data around how customers feel about their service.”

The voice dilemma

While HappyOrNot is aiding the attainment of critical high street data, for online operators the bigger challenge remains in getting consumers to the front door in the first place.

“The big emerging thing is voice,” Buss says. “We’re all familiar now with Siri or Alexa or Google Home Hub – it’s the fastest growing technology ever. They only deliver one answer though.

He explains: “A prospective consumer asks where the best place to get trainers is nearby. If you as a retailer aren’t that one answer that Alexa provides, you’re effectively invisible.”

Around three-quarters of all searches are now answered without the need to go to a retailer’s website, emphasising the important role that companies like Yext play in ensuring their most salient information is being delivered elsewhere.

Graham Johnston, head of omnichannel & digital-first at Three, has seen first-hand how important it is, even for blue-chip retailers, to keep ahead of this trend: “Ensuring our brand is highly searchable through voice and AI is essential,” he says.  “Through our partnership with Yext, information about all our Three retail stores is available through all text and voice search platforms, ensuring customers can be connected with the right information about the right channel 100% of the time.”

He adds: “The early results have been extremely impressive with ‘Google customer actions’ (calls, directions & visits) up 21%, year-on-year.”

Optimising web data

Buss goes on to say that the website still plays a vital role in ensuring such results are realised; the extent and accuracy of content still directly contributing to how it is crawled by Google. FAQs and the importance of schema tags in line with Google’s coding system are critical solutions to this end.

Essentially, the data that retailers used to rely upon to generate website visits, is now the data that needs to be optimised so that consumers find them everywhere else.

“Every retailer really is in the digital and data business; they just don't know it yet,” says Brendon Hore, chief technology officer at Peregrine Corporation, one of South Australia’s largest retail groups. “The customer is becoming much more demanding now, expecting to have a frictionless experience across channels.

“It starts in one channel then plays out in another – or moves between the two. There shouldn't be a chunkiness to the way that occurs. The more every retailer considers themselves as a data company, with data as one of your most valuable assets, then I think that journey will be easier.”

Buss agrees: “It’s important for retailers to structure all that data now, as it will be that information that’s pumped into whatever the next era of tech is. We didn’t know voice would be this big and it’s impossible to tell what the decision maker of the future will be.

“First and foremost, retailers need to simply make sure that they’re leveraging consumer feedback and getting their own internal structures right, so they show up when that next phenomenon arrives,” he says.

“They can only do that if they’re offering the best customer proposition out there.”