How Voice Search Might Impact eCommerce

Originally featured in the February 25th 2018 issue of Campaign Middle East

Long before the smartphone, the television, the radio, and even the printing press, we relied on our voices to communicate. These days we spend more and more time with our faces buried in a screen, although if you were to believe the tech press hype, all that might soon be about to change. There is a voice-powered revolution happening, or so we’re told.

Sales of voice assistant devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home spiked last year and are expected to grow exponentially in the foreseeable future. With smartphone ownership long past saturation point, the big tech players see voice as the next great frontier for how they might embed themselves into our lives.

And rightly so. Google says that 20% of searches on Android devices in the US are currently done by voice, and ComScore expects voice searches to rise to 50% of all searches by as soon as 2020. You can almost hear brands scrambling around to try and come up with a ‘voice strategy’. But are we getting a little too ahead of ourselves?

How all this will affect advertisers exactly is still very much up in the air. While these stats seem staggeringly high, it’s important to unpack the different types of voice search taken into account here. These stats include using voice as an input to serve up results on a smartphone screen via Apple’s Siri or Google Assistant for example. While we might search differently when using our voice compared to typing a search into our phone, this method ultimately still produces a list of text-based results that can be scrolled through and pondered over.

The real disruption will happen when we also get the results coming back to us through voice. Unlike text-based search, the number of results that a voice platform can serve up will be far fewer. Gone are the pages and pages of listings that can be facilitated through a screen. This is bound to refine the types of searches we make, but also the types of responses we are given in return, fundamentally changing how search works.

For example, instead of searching for “pizza places in Dubai” and being presented with a list of the nearest pizza restaurants, unless you know specifically where you want to order from, you are likely to be presented with only two or three of the most popular options. How Google or Amazon etc. decide on these options will have drastic knock-on implications for businesses. Depending on how well these platforms know you, they can tailor options to your tastes and purchase history etc., but this could make it increasingly difficult for brands to influence the process.

All of this might sound worrying for marketers, but if we look back to the current usage of voice-assistants it’s clear that we might be a bit further off this reality than some would have you believe. The vast majority of interactions with these devices at the moment are to carry out mundane tasks like playing music, getting the weather forecast, setting a timer or asking generic questions. When it comes to actually using these devices to make a purchase, this is still very rare. A recent Business Insider Intelligence survey of 1,000 heavy voice-assistant users found that only 9% had ever used voice commands to actually buy a product.

Some first-mover brands in the US that have gotten a march on their competitors are the likes of Starbucks and Domino’s pizza who have launched Alexa ‘skills’ over the last couple of years. These skills are still quite primitive though and usually only facilitate re-ordering a designated item and having to use a specific trigger phrase to do so.

While voice may not ultimately replace all e-commerce, it could especially revolutionize ‘replenishment purchases’ such as toothpaste or toilet paper, products that can be re-ordered without too much consideration. If your brand can become the default for your customer when she says, for example, “Alexa, buy more washing powder”, this can put you in a very strong position when it comes to customer retention.

Ironically, many of the brands that will reap the benefits in this new landscape will be those that have built up their brand outside of these platforms, maybe even on – shock, horror – traditional channels. So much so, that they are top-of-mind and that consumers actually request them specifically on voice platforms, or have them set as a default order.

While we’re yet to see how ads might be facilitated on voice platforms, Amazon have been in talks with consumer companies like Procter & Gamble and Clorox about paying for higher placement if a user searches for a particular type of product, as well as targeting users based on past shopping behavior to cross-sell complimentary products to them. How will all this play out over the coming years? We’ll just have to wait and see. Or perhaps more accurately, listen.

Posted by Rob in Advertising, Amazon, Apple, Campaign Magazine, e-Commerce, Google

The Augmented Reality Book Shop

I can’t get enough of seeing interesting real-world implementations of consumer AR and this ARKit example that I came across today is no exception. Scanning over a book shelf in a book store and seeing product information, reviews and pricing details is a pretty functional use case. Imagine something like this working in a supermarket price-comparison setting!

Posted by Rob in Apple, Augmented Reality

Two of the best AR implementations I’ve seen yet

I absolutely love this implementation of Apple’s AR kit! Imagine sitting down in a restaurant and being able to physically see your food on your plate before you order? I’ve being thinking of this as a really practical AR use case for a while but I’m seriously impressed at how well this prototype looks.

In the automotive industry, Chevrolet have rolled-out an impressive AR virtual showroom in Korea that let’s users check-out the latest models wherever they are.

Posted by Rob in Apple, Augmented Reality

Apple finally flexes its AR muscles

At last week’s Worldwide Developer Conference we finally got to see what Apple has up its sleeve when it comes to Augmented Reality. This is huge for the AR space as this basically lets developers create AR tools for any app, not just a walled garden like Facebook which we heard from in this regard recently.

This breakdown from Benedict Evans explains it better than I can:

“As was entirely predictable, Apple has added APIs for augmented reality. The phone uses the camera and motion sensors to do rock-solid positional reaching – you can tap on your screen to place a game on a table in front of you, walk around it, wave the phone around and all the action stays locked in place. This is hard for anyone without Apple’s integrated model to match. Facebook announced its own AR APIs in the spring, but they don’t have the hardware integration (nor a history of being a reliable development partner), and this is something that naturally belongs in the operating system. AR is the hot thing now, and the demos are cool, but this is also, of course, a natural building block for the mixed reality glasses that Apple is widely rumored to be working on for sale in a couple of years (equally, the Apple Watch and AirPods are probably hardware building blocks for this). When it comes, the first apps will already be there.”

Check out Venture Beat’s demo below:

Posted by Rob in Apple

Are Apple & Google Creating A Mobile Ad Network Duopoly?

Apple, loving ads on their Apple News app. Not so much on the open mobile web

With the annual Apple product launch event taking place this week, all anyone seems to be talking about are the new iPhones, iPads and Apple TV that will be thrown into the Autumn pipeline. But something else equally important to the state of the media landscape is also bubbling under the surface in the form of some interesting additions to the new iOS 9 software update.

Apple announced earlier this year that they are introducing an Ad-Blocker extension baked directly into iOS 9. This will allow iOS users to effectively opt-out of seeing ads on many third-party sites around the web. It has the potential to drastically impact online media publishers that make their money from hosting display ads on their site, and could put many of them in serious danger of going out of business.

Ad-blocking on mobile and the web is a hot topic at the moment, but regardless of the challenges that this poses to countless online publishers, when it comes to pushing ads on Apple’s own apps it’s a different story. They announced this week that ad-blocking will not be enabled on their new Apple News service, the app that aggregates content from a number of top publishers including The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Rolling Stone etc. While the revenue split looks favorable to the early adopter publishers, Apple News has the potential to grow into a huge hub for all major online publications very quickly. In this scenario, Apple own all the eyeballs, not only hijacking them from their original source, but also blocking the ads that appear to viewers that manage to slip through the net and get the content directly from the publisher’s site itself.

While blocking third-party ads on the open mobile web and promoting ads inside a particular mobile application (in this case, their own) is not exactly the same thing, the general attitude is the same: Hosting ads on your own site = Bad. Hosting ads on an Apple app = Good.

One rule for them. Another rule for the rest of us. They own the landscape I guess so everyone else just has to play by their rules.

Boromir Meme

Google champion In-App ads on Android but penalize mobile-web ads

Similarly, last week Google announced their new full-screen In-App advertisements. These ‘interstitials’ are full screen App-Install ads that will appear in Android apps to promote other apps to users. They look pretty nice and offer a much needed solution for advertisers that want to get exposure for their apps, but once again, there’s a potential conflict of interest.

Offering in-app advertising solutions on your own platform is fine, but when it comes to the mobile web, they want to crack down on publishers promoting their own apps on their own mobile sites. Google announced this week that they will start to penalize publishers in mobile search results that put up app-install banners (similar to the ones that Google just launched). A little contradictory no? Promote your apps through our in-app ad network, but don’t you dare try and do it on your own mobile site.


What next for publishers?

As the world goes increasing mobile, it’s not a question of distinguishing apps and the mobile web from the ‘real’ internet we all grew up with on the desktop, but about catering to the mobile experience first and foremost.

It’s time to invert that mental model – there is not the ‘mobile internet’ and the internet. Rather, if anything, it’s the internet and the ‘desktop internet’

Source: Benedict Evans

And this is where the problem is. In this mobile-first landscape, as Apple and Google exert more and more control over how ads are served on mobile devices, they’ll start to take a bigger and bigger slice of the pie. Both companies have been relatively happy to just facilitate the unprecedented growth of mobile usage over the last few years, but it looks like they are finally starting to really take advantage of the fact that they wrote the rule book. Duopoly much?

The rise in ad-blocking in general has been huge over the last 12 months and Apple & Google are throwing fuel on the fire all under the guise of ‘enhancing user experience’ on mobile. This is fine in theory, but pretty hypocritical when you champion your own ad platforms all while blocking out others. Publishers should think about this very carefully. In this new ad-blocking mobile age,  it might be a good time to stop and re-evaluate your strategy.


Posted by Rob in Apple, Google, Mobile, Old Media