When Shopping Lists Go Bot

One of our account directors, Laura, has been ordering dog food through her thermostat. Yes, you read that right. Apparently, her Nest is connected to her Amazon Prime account, or something equally nerdy.

Amidst 21st century methods of buying dog food at home, and simultaneously diving ever-deeper into the world of “connected retail” on behalf of our AT&T and Schnucks client teams, we’re noticing an exciting comingling of high-tech retail trends – voice-assisted shopping among them. The technology is adding a new, unique element to the customer journey – transforming retail in unprecedented ways.

“Alexa, Add Milk to My Grocery List.”

Consumers first started talking to computers in the 1990s, when AT&T used early voice recognition software to route customer calls. But today, chatting with Alexa or Siri isn’t clunky – it’s natural. Over a third of Amazon Echo users are using Alexa to maintain a shopping list. And 17% of them use Echo to add items to an online shopping cart. So what are people asking Alexa to buy? The top categories include household supplies, pet supplies, and packaged goods and snacks. (Source: Field Agent, “Shopping on the Cutting-Edge: Shopper Attitudes Toward 3 Trailblazing Retail Technologies”)

The premise seems futuristic, but the logic is simple. If you’ve ever logged in to Amazon and purchased, for instance, Bounty paper towels, then Amazon has a record of that purchase and assumes Bounty is your preference. So a few days later, after a kid’s particularly messy milk spill, Echo users can simply say, “Alexa, buy paper towels,” and the tech gears start turning.

It’s not just the online-retail behemoth Amazon that’s onto the game, though. Target and Google recently announced a new partnership enabling Google Express customers to order from Target using Google Assistant. It’s safe to assume that more technology is on the way, and existing channels will become smarter and more intuitive. Welcome to the future. Here’s what it means for marketers:

“Top-of-Mind” Overtakes “Front-of-Shelf”

The easily visualized image of a customer standing in an aisle of wall-to-wall laundry detergents, comparing labels and weighing the merits of stain remover versus color protector is becoming less of a “given.” In the world of voice-assisted shopping, being top-of-mind is more important than being front-of-shelf. With a marked decline of in-the-aisle research, a consumer’s unaided, mental consideration set is more powerful than ever.

Brand Loyalty or Brand Stickiness?

For challenger brands looking to upset category leaders, the Alexa factor raises the bar. Instead of making a deliberate, recurring choice to purchase Bounty over Brawny in the aisle, shoppers are digitally automating the choice by defaulting to the brands of past purchases. The challenge lies in upsetting consumers’ status quo choice.

Bringing Brick-and-Mortar Touchpoints to Digital

For brands that market physical products, it’s easy to think of the physical store as the holy grail of consumer-to-brand interaction. But as consumers increasingly turn toward e-commerce platforms for shopping, marketers must ensure that a consumer’s online experience with the brand aligns with the brick-and-mortar experience.

For instance, ensure that consumers can see fabrics and textures close-up. Make sure SKU descriptions and product details align. Make it easy to compare claims across brands. The task is daunting, but essential to creating a digital experience that offers the benefits of brick-and-mortar experiences.

No matter which retail evolution happens next, the heart of retail’s digital transformation lies in creating smarter and simpler, streamlined customer experiences. It’s important to remember that retail begins long before customers enter the door, and transcends basic transactions.