"Hey Google, ask Argos": Argos unveils voice technology service

UK retailer Argos is pushing ahead with use of voice recognition technology as part of the online ordering process.

By using the Google Assistant, which is available on most Android phones, iOS or smart speakers like Google Home, consumers can reserve their order before collecting it the same day from a choice of over 800 stores. Argos said the process entails a quick confirmation on a user's smartphone once the initial order is made.

Customers can also ask Google to search for products and check stock availability, as well as using the technology to locate a store by saying: “OK Google. Ask Argos to find my nearest store”.

Voice-enabled technology is viewed by many in the retail industry as a more natural and efficient way of facilitating online search and answering customer queries, and the machine learning part of Google’s technology is designed to get more sophisticated the more it is used and the more data it processes.

Argos acknowledges it is early days in the tech’s deployment, however, and is seeking customer feedback on its voice tech service to help shape its future proposition. Although clearly a shopper can call a store via phone or make an online order or search in the traditional way, Argos’s view is the combination of human voice and technology simply adds convenience to the ordering process.

It is certainly launched in line with a growing trend, as smart speaker demand continues to grow, including in the form of Google’s range, Amazon’s Alexa, and other providers. Sales of smart speakers have grown 151% year-on-year at Argos alone, according to the retailer.

John Rogers, CEO of Argos, said: “Voice technology has the potential to revolutionise how we shop in the future.  

“Digital home assistants have soared in popularity over the past year and people are increasingly looking to their smart devices to help with the smooth running of their lives.”

He added: “Argos is a digitally-led business at the forefront of technology and it’s really exciting that we are harnessing the simplicity of voice ordering with the convenience and popularity of click & collect to make our customers’ lives easier.”

Naji El-Arifi, global head of innovation at Salmon, described how voice shopping has quickly become a buzzword in the world of eCommerce: "Argos’ decision to sell through Google Home is evidence of a growing pattern of brands and retailers cottoning on to consumer desire to spend money through different mediums," he said. "For Argos, this represents another channel through which they hope to stave off strong competition from Amazon as its Amazon Echo device moves into more homes."

He said Salmon's research claims 55% of shoppers like purchasing using their smart speakers, but 78% of consumers still have concerns about their devices listening in to their conversations, while 83% are worried about it ordering items without their permission. 

"However, it does represent a sea-change in how eCommerce companies should be approaching innovation and communication, and these numbers will surely subside as shopping via Google Home and Amazon Echo becomes easier and smarter. As voice and gesture devices become more mainstream, and even brain-computer interfacing edges ever closer to reality, retailers and brands need to act early to make a play in the market; voice experiences takes time to develop, require plenty of AI training and trial-and-error before they can be fully functioning. They should also look to own every interface and touchpoint with the customer. After all, if you own the interface, you own the customer.”

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