The current crisis is having a huge impact on shopping behavior. Those who had embraced e-commerce increased their volume. And many who were reluctant to use online shopping have now jumped in. 

The numbers are as incredible as the pandemic itself — in 8 weeks, US e-commerce penetration has jumped from 16% to the current 27%. And although a few retailers have shown large increased sales volumes, for many, the increase online was more than offset by the loss of in-store revenues. And, while some categories have grown, others are down.

All the pundits have strong opinions on what the future will look like, but the only point on which all agree is that the future new normal will be quite different than last year and that the increased penetration of e-commerce will continue to grow.

But the pre-Covid-19 reluctance of shoppers to embrace online stores for many shopping categories was very real. Bad shopping experiences. Little online help. Intrusive personalization that kept pushing items they already purchased. Bad checkout experiences. Worry about credit card fraud. Difficulty with returns. Etc. Etc.

And, although the current experiences with online shopping may overcome some of these, retailers who are not working to mitigate these issues will lose many of their new customers. 

The contrast of online to brick-and-mortar stores that offer a great in-store experience with a friendly, knowledgeable shopping associate is very real. And it is time to bring that great shopping experience online.

What Consumers Want in Online Shopping

The pandemic is increasing digital adoption broadly. Not just an increase in online shopping, but specifically in the use of various technologies. 

In an early April Accenture survey, more than half of consumers say they will likely increase their use of voice-enabled digital assistants, online recommendation apps, and self-service apps. 

Why not combine those three apps into a single, intelligent digital assistant? A voice-and-text-enabled shopping assistant that has a personalized conversation with each shopper —  understanding what the shopper wants and finding the most relevant items, knowing the shopper’s preferences and making personalized recommendations, and ready to help in all phases from browsing to selection to purchase to follow-up customer care. 

As Oliver Wright, managing director and head of Accenture’s global Consumer Goods practice said, the current crisis is “a wake-up call for companies to ensure they have the agility and capability to be relevant to consumers and customers — with a portfolio of products and services that match shifting purchasing patterns — not just today, but post-pandemic as well.”

Introducing “Personalized Conversational Shopping”

Personalized Conversational Shopping brings that great in-store experience online. Shopping that is driven by understanding the shopper AND the store. A user experience that is like conversing with an efficient, intelligent sales associate.

OK, sure, virtual assistants are not yet as friendly as real people. But they are better at handling large amounts of data. So they can be even better at matching user intent and preferences to the catalog and item information. 

When you walk into a store, the shopping associate rarely knows you and your shopping history — everything you’ve looked at and what you’ve purchased. The personalized intelligent virtual assistant can know all that. And can create a personalized shopping experience tailored to each of your shoppers! 

Ready for More? Next Steps

Andrew Carlisle Managing director and digital lead (retail), Accenture noted, “Once the immediate crisis passes, some shoppers will return to bricks and mortar for some segments. But the fact is, digital platforms are set to become a major driver of growth for all retailers, large and small. This was true before the pandemic, of course. It has now been accelerated to a degree few could have predicted. Adapting to the post-Covid digital reality is an imperative no retailer can ignore.”

 Hype or reality? At Vioby, we have years of experience developing and deploying enterprise-scale conversational systems that have been used by millions of users every day. And we understand shoppers and e-commerce stores through our experience building automated marketing tools for retailers and brands. In the next articles, I’ll discuss real strategies to deploy the next generation of shopping — Personalized Conversational Shopping.

Vioby Personalized Conversational Shopping

Vioby has been working with retailers to develop branded personalized conversational shopping that deliver great shopping experiences for their customers. The intelligent interactive conversations with shoppers use voice and text modalities and integrate our client’s retail data. We leverage our long experience in enterprise-scale voice-interactive systems coupled with our e-commerce marketing automation technology. Our video of voice shopping shows how a shopper can browse large retailer catalogs to find and purchase the items they want.

Are you a retailer or agency working with retailers? We’d be glad to explore partnering with you and your team to define, create and deploy a great brand-centric voice shopping experience for your customers.

Mike Krasner is a co-founder of Vioby, a Boston-area developer of AI-based marketing automation tools for e-commerce retailers and their agencies. Leveraging their extensive background in creating and deploying enterprise-scale voice-interactive systems, Vioby is now developing voice shopping for retailers and brands. 

Contact us for more details.