In the last part, we presented examples of new concepts in mobile apps that are making it easier for users to get to the mobile store and directly to relevant content and making mobile payments easier and faster.

The part of the shopping process that Vioby is focused is between these – the experience after the shopper has entered the e-store and wants to find a product, discover new products, get information or just browse to see what is new and trendy. It is early in the evolution of mobile shopping and there are issues in all areas, but it is this navigation and discovery of products and information that is the weakest link in the overall shopping experience—this is the shopping gap.

Econsultancy’s annual “Reducing Customer Struggle” survey of brands this year asked brands what the most serious issues were for customer mobile interaction. The top issues were bad navigation & poor “findability” and problems due to screen-size, a clear indication that just using the same basic techniques that are successful on desktops and laptops do not simply translate well to mobile devices. Although designers have tried various techniques to mitigate the small screen and user input issues, the problems are not yet solved.

At Vioby, we saw this as an opportunity to reimagine what the mobile shopping experience should be, rather than an exercise in how to mitigate the limitations of mobile devices for a port of desktop shopping apps. When we asked shoppers to tell us about their great shopping experiences, it often came back to a good salesperson that understood what they were looking for and their preferences and had good knowledge of the products in the store—their specifications and features, how people used the products and what users said about them in feedback and reviews. This led to our design of an intelligent assistant who would help the shopper through the process.

The concept of the personal assistant or virtual assistant is not new. In the domains of personal productivity, Siri and Google Now are great examples of personal assistants that emulate human intelligence to help users get the information they need to schedule their day and communicate with others. The personal assistants use relevant domain-specific knowledge (e.g., how people schedule their activities and the various methods of communication) along with the user’s personal information (such as your calendar and messages and personal preferences) and realtime world data (for example, the weather, traffic and news) to present the information you need, sometimes proactively before you even ask. Important to us is that these examples show that mobile implementations of an intelligent assistant can be successful and provide a good user experience.

How would this concept work for mobile shopping? What would a Shopping Assistant look like? Whereas Siri, for example, is a personal assistant with knowledge of the user’s personal data and how users make calendar appointments and send texts and email, shopping requires deep understanding of the products, how people use those products and, most importantly, how shoppers describe what they are looking for, how they will use the product and the features they want. It is this combination of product knowledge and human knowledge that enables a salesperson to really help the shopper. For example, when a shopper asks for a blue sweater, the salesperson knows which sweaters fit that desired color even if the catalog has manufacturer-labeled colors of “brilliant tea”, “tidewater” or “sapphire”. And when a shopper is looking for a laptop good for streaming video, doing email and traveling, the salesperson translates that into requirements of gigabytes of memory, processor speed, size and weight and then makes a recommendation.

We have built a powerful and effective voice-enabled platform to help retailers and brands deliver a great experience to their shoppers. Layering on their existing mobile apps and integrating with their infrastructure, the Vioby Shopping Assistant incorporates voice and natural language technologies, knowledge derived from the product catalog, and shopping-domain-specific knowledge to engage the shopper in a conversation—understanding the shopper’s request and responding appropriately. And it is much more than a search engine – in addition to helping the shopper find products, it talks to the shopper, for example, providing feedback, asking for additional information based on the items in the store that match the user’s interest, presenting suggestions and personalized recommendations and whether items are in-stock and availability in nearby stores. Check out the Vioby website or get in touch with us to learn more.