By Mike Faden
BI Insider's Voice Payments Report estimated that 18 million people in the U.S., representing 8 percent of U.S. adults, have already used a voice payment service – and the company projects that figure will quadruple over the next five years.3 Capgemini predicts that as voice assistants become a dominant mode of interaction, they will transform the way that buyers and sellers interact, driving the growth of what the company calls "conversational commerce," with virtual assistants taking on more sophisticated tasks and shaping the choices presented to consumers.4
Voice payment services have been available for many years via automated Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems used in call centers, which typically support relatively simple and limited voice interactions.5 But what's driving the growth predictions is the rapid adoption of AI-powered virtual assistants such as Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri and Google Assistant, which are designed to understand and engage in much more sophisticated conversations.
These assistants are being embedded in a wide range of devices, including smartphones, smart speakers, home appliances and even cars. Time to Talk, a report by Capgemini, Intel and MIT, predicts that consumers will use more than 190 million in-home conversational devices such as smart speakers by 2019, with annual growth exceeding 600 percent over the next few years.6
Tens of thousands of apps, or "skills," have been written for these virtual assistants, helping users take advantage of them for a broad variety of functions, including payments.7 A number of banks, online payment service providers, and credit-card companies already allow people to use these virtual assistants as a voice payment method and for account management; users can also shop by voice from many retailers and other sellers.8
Voice assistant technology is also beginning to be employed within businesses. Initial uses include administrative functions such as booking conference rooms, but those uses are expected to broaden as the technology is incorporated into enterprise applications, proponents say.9,10
In a survey of over 5,000 consumers, Capgemini found that just over half (51 percent) are already users of voice assistants, most via smartphones. Notably, around a quarter (24 percent) said they would rather use a voice assistant than a website or mobile app, a figure expected to rise to 40 percent in the next three years. Users cited convenience (52 percent) and the ability to do things hands free (48 percent) as the two biggest reasons for preferring voice assistants.11
The survey found that voice assistants are already widely used as a payment method. Among the users of voice assistants, 28 percent said they had made a payment or sent money; 35 percent had purchased products. Furthermore, use as a payment method is expected to increase rapidly: Capgemini says voice-assistant users expect to use the technology for 18 percent of their total expenses in three years, up from 3 percent currently.12
Experts say virtual assistants have the potential for a much broader impact on e-commerce, beyond simply providing a new channel and payment method. That's because they can change the way that users find products and interact with sellers.
Unlike in stores or web searches, where users are presented with multiple choices, voice assistants often steer purchasers to a single product, according to The Wall Street Journal. That may increasingly present a challenge to companies grappling with how to attract customers online – particularly since one expert quoted by the Journal estimated that within five years half of web searches will be conducted via voice. "When it comes to voice search you go first position or you go home because beyond the first or second place there is no future," he said.13
According to the report by Capgemini, Intel and MIT, "Voice platform owners, including the world's leading online retailers, will be the gatekeepers to this new source of growth. They will be free to promote any vested interests in retailing and brand promotion, a situation the industry should avoid."14
On the other hand, as virtual assistants improve, they will be able to automate more sophisticated tasks, such as proactively replenishing supplies and suggesting better deals, the report suggests. They'll learn users' preferences, enabling the establishment of closer relationships between buyers and sellers.15
According to BI Insider, "next-generation voice assistants will blow the current generation away. Voice payments will evolve from clunky and poorly scripted sessions to interactions as natural as one might have with a personal shopper or bank employee."16
Proponents say that with the rise of virtual assistants, voice technology is poised to become a dominant way of interacting with the online world, potentially transforming payment methods, payment services, and e-commerce.
Mike Faden has covered business and technology issues for more than 30 years as a writer, consultant and analyst for media brands, market-research firms, startups and established corporations. Mike also is a principal at Content Marketing Partners.
1. “The Voice Payments Report: The next major interface for payments,” BI Insider; http://www.businessinsider.com/the-voice-payments-report-2017-6
2. Conversational Commerce: Why Consumers Are Embracing Voice Assistants in Their Lives, Capgemini; https://www.capgemini.com/news/voice-assistants-set-to-revolutionize-commerce-and-become-a-dominant-mode-of-consumer-interaction-in-the-next-three-years/
3. “The Voice Payments Report: The next major interface for payments,” BI Insider; http://www.businessinsider.com/the-voice-payments-report-2017-6
4. “Conversational Commerce: Why Consumers Are Embracing Voice Assistants in Their Lives, Capgemini; https://www.capgemini.com/news/voice-assistants-set-to-revolutionize-commerce-and-become-a-dominant-mode-of-consumer-interaction-in-the-next-three-years/
5. “Interactive voice response,” Wikipedia; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interactive_voice_response
6. Time to talk, Capgemini, Intel, MIT; https://www.capgemini.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/time_to_talk.pdf
7. “Alexa skills top 25,000 in the U.S. as new launches slow,” TechCrunch; https://techcrunch.com/2017/12/15/alexa-skills-top-25000-in-the-u-s-as-new-launches-slow/
8. “The Voice Payments Report: The next major interface for payments,” BI Insider; http://www.businessinsider.com/the-voice-payments-report-2017-6
9. “Amazon Plans to Send Alexa to the Office,” The Wall Street Journal; https://www.wsj.com/articles/amazon-plans-to-send-alexa-to-the-office-1512008730
10. “Unlocking enterprise systems using voice,” All things distributed; https://www.allthingsdistributed.com/2018/03/unlocking-enterprise-systems-using-voice.html
11. Conversational Commerce: Why Consumers Are Embracing Voice Assistants in Their Lives, Capgemini; https://www.capgemini.com/news/voice-assistants-set-to-revolutionize-commerce-and-become-a-dominant-mode-of-consumer-interaction-in-the-next-three-years/
13. “The Next Big Threat to Consumer Brands (Yes, Amazon’s Behind It),” The Wall Street Journal; https://www.wsj.com/articles/big-consumer-brands-dont-have-an-answer-for-alexa-1519727401
14. “Barclays banks on Siri for voice payments,” CBR; https://www.cbronline.com/mobility/apps/barclays-banks-siri-voice-payments/
15. Time to talk, Capgemini, Intel, MIT; https://www.capgemini.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/time_to_talk.pdf
16. “The Voice Payments Report: The next major interface for payments,” BI Insider; http://www.businessinsider.com/the-voice-payments-report-2017-6