AI-enabled voice assistants like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant are likely to radically change the way consumers search and purchase products with severe impact on companies.
However, the behavior of these shopping-related machines represents a “black box” difficult, if not impossible, to decode for managers. At the same time, the ecosystem in which the firm operates has a profound impact on how the firm can make (and react to) changes. A new study on the “Evolution of marketing in the context of voice commerce,” conducted by researchers from the University of Zurich and SDA Bocconi, examines managers’ perceptions of the evolution of voice assistants and their potential effects on marketing practice. Within the broader research, an expert survey with Swiss and European managers (N=62) revealed the expected impact of voice assistants on the shopping process. General findings show that managers consider voice assistants a disruptive technology assuming a central relational role in the consumer market.
The disruptive potential of voice assistants
In the managers’ view, in-home voice assistants are progressively mediating market interactions. While functioning as a “salesperson,” voice assistants are redefining relationships among consumers and brands.
- Remarkably, 87% of managers agree that voice assistants will become “powerful marketing, sales, and distribution channel” and “technology increasingly able to influence consumer’s choices” (80%).
- Two-thirds of the study participants expect a “severe impact on consumer brands,” and 75% believe that voice assistants will become “new middlemen between brands and consumers.”
Challenges of voice commerce for companies
A key threat for companies connected to the diffusion of voice commerce is related to the potential bargaining power shift in favor of voice assistants’ manufacturers, especially Amazon.
- A total of 71% of respondents agree that Alexa will “disproportionally place its private labels while penalizing other consumer brands” and nearly two-thirds (65%) of managers believe that brands will “have reduced visibility on voice assistants compared to other touchpoints.”
- At the same time, 44% of managers disagree that “low involvement product categories will be the only affected by the voice assistant’s diffusion,” exhibiting an expected “universal” effect of voice commerce across product categories.
- Moreover, three-fourths of respondents believe those voice assistants will “ongoingly re-evaluate the consumer’s product choice and suggest better alternatives.” In a context in which brands are required to continually justify their positions, competition might increase.
The relevance of voice commerce for Switzerland and Europe
According to this study, managers express a shared understanding of voice commerce’s challenges and opportunities for their brands.
- Nearly three-fourths of the respondents (74%) believe that voice commerce represents a “great opportunity for their brand.” At the same time, 77% consider it a significant challenge.
- Managers operating in Switzerland find voice commerce less critical for their country compared to European managers. This might be due to the underdeveloped presence of Amazon in Switzerland, a fact that drives the penetration of voice assistants (and voice commerce) in other markets.
- Also, European managers believe to a greater extent than the Swiss that voice commerce is “important to win shares in the short-term.” The stable Swiss economic situation might be reflected in the manager’s reduced sense of urgency.
This result of this study shows a dual mindset of managers. Voice commerce is seen as a revolution in marketing and brand management, but also a phenomenon with potentially detrimental consequences. In light of these firm’s radical exogenous changes, researchers and marketers are called to study further the interplay between consumers and brands in response to “machine behaviors.”
More about this research:
Alex Mari, Andreina Mandelli, and René Algesheimer (2020) The Evolution of Marketing in the Context of Voice Commerce: A Managerial Perspective. Proceeding of the 22nd International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction (HCI International 2020).