The talking economy: How voice-enabled purchasing can change buying habits
Today Apple released an iOS update that, among other things, allows users to purchase movie tickets from Fandango directly through Siri. iPhone owners have been reluctant to really embrace Siri – which may be more a reflection on Apple’s product than it is on user behavior – so there is no telling how popular the feature will be. But it does have some implications: Voice-enabled purchasing is now available en masse, and marketers will have to take notice.
First, my sympathies to marketers. You have to think of a new approach every time a platform makes some minute tweak that sends a ripple effect through the digital economy.
While the update is allows an integration with Fandango for now, it’s reasonable to assume that more will be on the way. On a macro level, the ease of buying by voice command could signal a shift in spending. Once your credit cards are set up and accessible on your iPhone, friction all but goes away. No swipe or touch to pay – let alone partaking in the uncivilized act of actually exchanging small pieces of paper.
Numerous studies have shown that credit cards make people more trigger-happy with their purchases over cash. In one major study, two MIT Sloan School of Business professors examined how much electronic payments promote overspending. With hardly anything standing in the way but laryngitis, will the propensity to spend increase by an order of magnitude? If so, the shrewdest marketers can target purchasing possibilities with Siri – or really any of the voice recognition services that are no doubt coming – to hone in on a vulnerable customer.
Obviously, the ecosystem around a voice-automated buying mechanism has to mature a lot, but I’m sure Apple is working toward the day when you not only can buy something as generic as movie tickets with your voice, but something as personal as clothing. That’s when the questions get more interesting.
All of a sudden, Apple has Google-like ranking problems for its top hits, deciding who Siri’s go-to merchants become. Siri usually filters by location, but with direct buying power, where proximity is not an issue, brands may start to battle for the right of first mention.
If I’m looking for a new belt, will Siri simply return search results for merchants near me that sell belts, then let me browse and make the transaction with my voice when I’m ready? (Never mind that currently, asking Siri, “Where can I buy a belt?” brings up a Web search for “Where can I buy adult?” and shows me a link for purchasing adult diapers.) Or, in the interest of turning Siri into a truly voice controlled personal assistant, will it be able to ask you what style and size you want, find you examples with photos from partner merchants, and let you buy?
Apple will also need to decide how involved it wants its partners to be. Will Siri be reading product descriptions instead of merely displaying them on the page? If so, there’s a stylistic nuance here. Siri is a character – a witty and sometimes wry assistant with a script written for her. Apple has recently been looking for a creative writer to create thoughtful copy for the bot. Anything that comes out of here mouth is part of this play that Siri is a miracle assistant sent from the heavens (or Cupertino) to serve you. Breaking character could degrade the gimmick. So could letting outside brands write inferior copy for her. But achieving the right tone and letting marketers in on the fun could create a unique relationship between the two sides. And if done right, it may be another tool a marketer has to coax a customer.
This just scratches the surface. Aside from issues specific to Siri, voice-powered purchases can have a striking effect on mobile commerce. First things first, though. The recognition software will have to get better, especially if retailers want people to make meaningful purchases with their mouths. Right now it's like talking to a muffled drive-thru speaker. And I really don’t need a case of adult diapers shipped to me. Not yet, at least.
[Image courtesy LarimdaME]