Voice recognition technology has moved beyond the realm of checking the weather and playing music. Pandemic-fueled digital commerce is rapidly increasing the use of voice recognition technology. In particular, consumer expectations for contactless payment methods as a result of health and safety concerns during the pandemic are galvanizing retailers to integrate flexible, contactless payment options like voice payment technologies into their operations.
Consumer preference for contactless retail experiences is expected to remain the norm post-pandemic. A Capgemini report, COVID-19 and the Age of the Contactless Customer Experience, noted that “the trend towards touchless interactions is reflected strongly in retail spending patterns over the course of the pandemic.” The report cited data from the U.S. that consumer spending fell by a record 16.4% in April 2020, but online retailers saw an 8.4% increase in sales during the same period. The report concluded that “these shifts in spending highlight the need for organizations to recreate the experience and safety of online shopping within physical settings, in order to draw customers in-store.”
The Capgemini report surveyed 4,800 consumers and over 950 executives from 12 major economies — China, the UK, the U.S., Australia, India, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Brazil — revealing that 77% of consumers expect to increase their use of touchless technologies to avoid interactions that require physical contact, and 62% expect to increase their use even when the pandemic is over, “demonstrating that this is a trend with longevity.”
Retailers recognize the importance of delivering contactless shopping experiences post-pandemic, with 69% believing that consumer behavior based on non-touch will remain after the COVID-19 outbreak.
Even before the pandemic, consumer comfort and familiarity with buying products such as groceries and clothing was on an upward trajectory. This year, there will be 4.2 billion digital voice assistants being used in devices around the world. Projections indicate that by 2024, the number of digital voice assistants will reach 8.4 billion units — a number higher than the world’s population. With this increasing use of voice technology in smart speakers and devices, voice-activated payments for purchases will continue to surge.
Consulting firm OC&C Strategy Consultants predicts the value of voice commerce will increase from $2 billion in annual payment volume in 2018 to $40 billion in volume by 2022.
As consumers become increasingly comfortable with using their voices to make purchases, retailers investing in voice recognition payment technology can meet expectations for contactless shopping and deliver a more convenient, frictionless buying experience.
Voice recognition technology innovations from key players are accelerating the usage of voice payments as a whole across industries. Innovations include solutions that work for everyone regardless of their language or accent, improved accuracy even in noisy environments, speech processing that takes place on the edge to ensure the privacy of data and more.
Advanced voice recognition technology is now capable of recognizing hundreds of intents in a small device, with multiple languages built into the device so that users can switch seamlessly between languages when interacting with the device, without the need to configure language settings in between. This voice recognition technology can operate securely offline without an internet connection, protecting consumer data and privacy. The latest advancements in voice recognition have lent themselves to the success of the tech within payments.
Recently, other companies have introduced biometric voice recognition to quickly and securely authenticate a transaction at the point of sale based on a digital record of voice prints. Rapidly evolving voice recognition technology is making this possible.
Voice payment technology is making inroads in retail, but some payment experts currently see the technology mostly benefitting big box retailers and franchises. A lack of access to these technologies would impact small businesses. “While it’s exciting to see these advancements in the industry, not all small business owners have the means or ability to access and offer payment options via voice technology,” said Austin Mac Nab, CEO and Co-founder of VizyPay, an award-winning payment processor for small businesses. “This creates another major hurdle for SMBs that are trying to remain competitive against big box retailers. In the short term, companies like Amazon with smart speakers need to help prioritize small businesses through their technology until it becomes commonplace enough to be affordable for all.”
As advancements in voice recognition technology continue, these solutions will become more accessible and affordable to retailers across the board, both large and small.
That’s good news for retailers looking for ways to attract customers back into their stores. Voice payment technology can help them deliver the contactless shopping experiences that will help bring customers back into their stores.
Vikrant Singh Tomar is the Founder and CTO of Fluent.ai, a speech recognition company based in Montreal, Canada. Singh Tomar has over a decade of experience in speech recognition and machine learning, and holds a PhD in automatic speech recognition and machine learning from McGill University. He has worked at Nuance Communications and Vestec Inc. in the past.