The idea of voice-first commerce is nothing new but it’s about to evolve in meaningful ways.
We’ve long engaged in voice-first commercial transactions. Drive-through restaurants were build around voice-first commerce. While there is some debate on who was first, In-N-Out Burger’s first restaurant, which opened in Baldwin Park, California in 1948, helped define the modern drive-through experience. That first drive-through only restaurant had the now-familiar intercom ordering system and lacked both parking and an inside seating area. The model exploded and changed social norms in the process. Several years ago NPD estimated there were some 12 billion annual visits to U.S. drive-through windows and that figure has likely only gone up in the ending years. For fast food burger restaurants, drive-ins represent nearly 60 percent of total customer visits.
The early drive-through experience wasn’t perfect. But it was convenient and as a nation we embraced it wholeheartedly. Over time we added displays and screens to improve the experience. The first displays depicted the options available. Secondary screens were added in more recent years displaying and confirming the order. Visually displaying the order overcomes the problems inherent in confirming the order by reading it back to the consumer.
One could argue mail-order catalogs during the 1980s and 1990s, when voice was the primary method of placing orders, was an important voice commerce channel. Arguable the second true voice commerce channel after drive-throughs, though technically not voice-first. Voice gave way to websites over the last decade. Shopping networks like QVC have been an important voice commerce channel. But for the most part, from fast food drive-throughs to mail-order catalogs for part of their tenure to television shopping networks and infomercials, voice-first commerce has changed little over the last 70 years. With the release of the original Echo in 2014, Amazon ushered in the next iteraction of voice-first commerce.
With the echo, voice-first commerce is making greater inroads into the home. I see the modern-era of voice-first commerce evoluting in much the same way it did over the last few decades. Today’s release of the Echo Show will play an important role in defining this evolution.
Last week I asked Alexa to order a refrigerator water filter for me. I needed a specific part number and Alexa picked it up perfectly. But given the complexity and exactness of the order, the voice confirmation wasn’t quite sufficient for me so I turned to my phone to ensure Amazon had identified the correct item. In my case there was no hand off from the Echo to the phone so I essentially had to search anew to confirm the item was the one I needed and then place the order.
I imagine the Amazon Echo Show will help tremendously in a use-case scenario like the one I had last week. It should help drive up close rates and generally improve the user experience. As in my fast food example above, adding additions displays facilitated the voice-first commerce experience. There will be other use-case scenarios that emerge of course. But I’m most interested to see the impact on voice-first commerce.