Languages Magazine

Why is Retail Afraid of Voice Recognition for Mobile Apps?

By Expectlabs @ExpectLabs
Why is retail afraid of voice recognition for mobile apps?

That's the question posed by a great thought piece recently published in Computerworld. The arguments it lays out in favor of voice's inclusion in retail apps are solid:

Pulldown menu navigation for retail is, all too frequently, really bad. However, with natural-language voice search, users can quickly and easily navigate to the content they're looking for. Moreover, each query is logged, and the data is powerful: consumers are expressing, literally in their own words, exactly what they're looking for!

Even if the system were to miss a query, a human agent could then respond, and - in the author's words:

How powerful would it be for that shopper to receive a call from customer service, apologizing for your system's failure and - this is crucial - providing an explicit answer. As in, 'I am sorry that our automated system didn't understand your request, but I do. I checked and here's what that store has in stock, in the sizes/colors and designers you specified.' Think you have a good shot at closing that sale?
[...] With the current pulldown approach, if your pulldowns frustrate a customer, there is no practical way for you to learn that. The customer clicks away unhappy, and you'll have no idea why.

GlobalWebIndex recently published their findings that 1 in 5 adults have used voice search in the past month, with voice particularly popular with the younger demographic. (MindMeld's own research reflects similar results.) It's no small wonder, when voice is hands-free, vision-free, feels natural, and is three times faster than traditional mobile searching.

"If Apple...can make all of these interactions happen in natural voice," asks the author, "why has this magic yet to appear in the mobile apps of Walmart, Macy's, Costco, Walgreens, Target, Home Depot or Safeway?"

The answer is that intelligent, high-accuracy voice functionality is very hard to build. The knowledge of how to build really great voice assistants only exists at a small number of artificial intelligence companies. Quality voice interfaces are a very new phenomenon, and the first retail pioneers are just beginning to make exploratory inroads in voice. It will be exciting to watch this space evolve.

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