The latest major brand diving into the emerging marketplace of voice-activated shopping is big box retailer Target. Building on its partnership with Google, Target will make thousands of different products available to be ordered by voice-action.
While the program isn’t ready for prime time quite yet, it’s expected to debut along with the Google Assistant on smartphones later this year. Shoppers will simply need to “shout out orders” while they’re going about their other chores or running other errands. This will trigger a program that orders products from Target, as well as other retailers partnering with Google such as Home Depot and Walmart.
The voice-order technology is Google’s attempt to catch up with Amazon, which has been offering voice ordering through its Echo home assistant for several years. But, as consumer demands grow, voice-activated ordering is not the only option being offered to busy consumers. Target, once again, is trying to set trends to compete with Amazon in delivery. Google Express offers delivery in New York City and some locations in California. Since the pilot program worked, the company plans to expand the program nationwide. At present, buyers can pick up orders within two days at participating Target locations. By next year, the company has announced that pickup time on certain items will be reduced to two hours.
Many retailers are convinced voice shopping is the next big thing. Already, online ordering is making a huge dent in brick and mortar stores. When buying is as easy as talking, the conventional wisdom goes, it should push digital retail to another level entirely. The biggest hurdle retailers and developers face is building a program smart enough to know what the customer means when they call out a product. If they just say “toilet paper” or “cereal” the ordering technology needs to be able to accurately order the brand, size, and quantity. Otherwise, the offered convenience is lost.
Walmart has already come up with a simple workaround: the “reorder” feature. Walmart links to Google Express, where customer can manage a list of commonly-purchased items.
Market watchers are curious to see what the actual demand is for this service. While just about everyone is convinced this really will be the Next Big Thing, no one is quite certain just how many customers are interested in the technology at present.
As with anything new, there will be a learning curve, and the technology developers will need to pay close attention to what customers are saying about the current tech, so they know how to improve the next generation.
Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States.