The rise of voice activated virtual assistants such as Alexa is clearly worrying some of the larger grocery chains who are starting to invest heavily in intelligent chatbots. Last year Marks and Spencer launched Christmas Concierge on Facebook’s Messenger platform which, once a consumer had opted in, happily pushed out recipes, menu suggestions and product options daily in the run up to Christmas. This is one of the first of a new generation of chatbots which are based on similar neural networks to the voice activated Alexa and Echo and are equally intelligent machines. As neural networks are based on the way animal brains work it enables the machines to learn what choices consumers are likely to make and provide product selections that anticipate choices.
Lidl are taking the chatbot one stage further with the development of a chatbot with a female personality. Margot, the ultimate online sommelier, is designed to help Lidl customers become more confident in their wine choices and, ultimately sell more wine. Margot has a human like personality but is much more available than a human as this use of technology allows Lidl to interact with its customers 24/7.
Supermarkets are right to be worried. Analysts predict that half of all online searches will be made through voice activated assistants by 2020 and at least 30 per cent of all grocery shopping will be done by Alexa et al on behalf of the consumer. Technology is set to disrupt grocery shopping for ever and could easily shift the balance of power from the supermarket to the virtual assistant.
Right now advertising works. A consumer enters the supermarket, stops at the dairy section, looks at all the brands and remembers an advert that highlighted the brand’s connection to the producer. Bingo Cravendale goes in the trolley.
Voice activated search completely disrupts that retail moment as voice search works in a different way to text search. Working from a written shopping list a typical retail moment is a brand driven choice that happens in store. Once you put voice search into the equation the selection process is much longer and the ultimate choice of what selections the consumer is looking at is made by the voice activated assistant. What this means in real terms is that as the last little bit of milk dribbles from the bottle the consumer shouts out across the kitchen “Alexa can you put milk on the shopping list, you know that milk from that local producer that we got it from last time”. Alexa is now pulling up options from an artisanal dairy with unpasteurised and organic choices, completely bypassing the range of brands offered by the supermarket.
Over the next couple of years we are likely to see increased adoption of voice search. This offers a great opportunity for smaller family owned businesses as the way that neural networks operate means that brands who create the most interesting unbranded consumer engagement are going to be the most successful. And interesting doesn’t have to mean most expensive.