Walmart move highlights voice search conundrum for brands

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In a move seemingly designed to combat the threat of Amazon in the Grocery and Home Shopping space, Walmart announced yesterday (23 August) that they’re partnering with Google to power the Google Express service available via Google Home. While it potentially secures the fulfilment of orders to the growing numbers of people using voice search to purchase, it throws up interesting questions about the approach of brands to being ready for the era of the digital personal assistant.

As we hurtle towards a post-GDPR world where first party data is critical to informing all elements of a brand’s interaction with customers and prospective customers, surrendering control of the experience by powering a service rather than focusing on integrating the functionality into your own seems like a missed opportunity.

Indeed, depending on the uptake of voice search, which ComScore estimates suggest will power more than 50% of searches by 2020, surrendering the interface of some of your shoppers to a third party may cause damage in the longer term. You miss the traffic insight, lose control of the customer experience and commercially risk getting squeezed and put into a price war with other providers powering the same service (including Target and Costco). In short, many of the issues that brands have who retail via Amazon, for example.

Equally, Google has a history of bringing lots of traffic and sales to brands online before working out a way to make them pay for it. Google Search added PPC ads. Google Shopping used to be free (and rubbish). Give someone the drug, get them hooked, sell them the drug.

Brands might be concerned about preparedness for a world where digital personal assistants like Google Home, Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and the powerhouse that is Amazon’s Alexa provide the gateway to their customers. In reality, they can do this by being brilliant at being discoverable. How? Well it’s Search Engine Optimisation, isn’t it? Someone is asking something and you’re competing to provide the answer. You do this by presenting a simple, clear experience, based on what you know about the prospective customer from their search query.

Only now it isn’t just a query. It’s a much more detailed context – device, location, time of day, behavioural history, gender, demographic, product availability. Structuring the information on your site or app to cater for this is the key to success in the voice search era.

You can do it now, if you’re smart. At Latitude we worked with a cinema client to populate search ads based not only on the title of the movie someone might be searching for, but the time of the next showing in the cinema nearest them and the number of seats left for that showing. Is it more engaging? Instinctively, of course, but also 90% more people clicked on the ads, and 51% more people converted.

In addition, and this is where Walmart risks losing out, every one of those consumer journeys can be used to optimise which elements are best to show to people based on the different contexts in which they’re searching.

Giving answers rather than presenting options – that’s the power of digital personal assistants and voice search, and it’s achievable in regular search right now.

One final thought – has nobody learned anything from Google Shopping? Surely these closed environments sail very close to the wind on the prioritisation of their own services over others?

Rick Lamb is director of Latitude

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Rick Lamb

Rick Lamb is a director of digital marketing agency Latitude.

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