Last year, Amazon's Echo and Echo Dot were some of the most popular gifts. This year they are leading the charge, but other voice-enabled smart assistants have come on the scene. The proliferation of this market will continue to increase as Juniper Research predicts that voice-enabled speakers, such as Amazon Echo, Google Home and Sonos One, will be installed in 55 percent of U.S. households by the year 2022.

If you own one, then you know they can be used for variety of applications from playing music, ordering groceries to checking the weather, receiving the news, and more. While voice-enabled commerce was off to a rocky start with Amazon's Echo allowing 6-year-old Brooke Neitzel to order a doll house and numerous cookies, retailers are finding out what works and what doesn't.

SAP Hybris surveyed 1,000 U.S. consumers about their propensity to use voice-enabled smart assistants for holiday shopping. The results reveal that brands have made progress when using these devices: nearly four out of 10 consumers who own in-home assistants are considering using them to purchase gifts for others (16 percent), research deals and savings for gifts (15 percent), and for their own purchases (7 percent).  

Demonstrating momentum in the right direction, the survey also found that using the devices for holiday shopping this year more than doubled compared to 2016.  The increased interest in using smart assistants was convenience, which aligns with recent customer demands for personalized and seamless shopping experiences.

AI Advancements Still Not As Smooth as In-Store Experience

"Today's shoppers are eager to test and use the latest technology to simplify their shopping experience, making it more convenient to browse and buy their own schedule." said Johann Wrede, Global Vice President of Strategic Marketing for SAP Hybris. "Brands have made strides in quickly adopting new innovations - chatbots, voice, video conferencing - but the interactions on these channels are not as smooth as shoppers' experiences in-store."

The reality where consumers are looking towards these devices first for browsing and buying is still some ways off. In the meantime, retailers can work through barriers that are plaguing their customers from a frictionless voice commerce experience.  

1. Better Product Visualization

We've all been victims of ordering something online and being disappointed when it arrives that the product doesn't match the digital images and/or description. So, asking retailers to perfect this experience on a relatively new channel -  voice-enabled smart assistants -- is a big ask. Right now, customers are hesitant to purchase via a digital assistant because they cannot see or touch the product. Despite this challenge, Amazon launched its Echo Show earlier this year that provides users with a screen to better see purchases and other images. Retailers could also explore compounding smart assistants with virtual reality or augmented reality for an in-home immersive shopping experience.

2. More Context

According to the survey from SAP Hybris, nearly three fourths (72 percent) of respondents feel their device does not understand them well enough to recommend gift ideas for a variety of reasons. As smart assistants mature, retailers will be able to easily share more data for a robust customer profile to make more personalized recommendations.

The key to unlocking the context of customer profiles will be twofold: first, the AI and natural language processing in the devices will need to evolve to a point where consumers feel like they are speaking to a sales associate in a store. Sometimes, corresponding with these voice assistants is like speaking with Spaak from Star Trek - cold, non-emotional, and direct. The other component will be retailers uncovering a strategy to ensure the device has the latest customer interactions so it can make targeted, on point recommendations that align with the shopper's current sentiment and previous behavior.

3. A Simplified Purchasing Experience

Innovations in commerce have made the exchange of money for goods almost unnoticeable. If you're in need of ride, just order an Uber -- the charge on your account is just an afterthought. When you're out for run and need some water, it's no problem -- you can pick some up with ApplePay on your phone. The way consumers are used to paying for items is beyond simplified and this experience is yet to make its way to digital assistants. The survey found that 19 percent of respondents felt that voice commerce required too much guidance. If voice commerce is not easy to navigate when making a purchase, users will unplug and move to another channel. Regardless of the channel consumers engage on, they want it to be convenient and that's a major benefit of an in-home assistant.

Wrede summed up the key to these barriers succinctly, "the key to overcoming the challenges of voice commerce relies in companies maintaining and sharing rich customer data sets. This will enable the devices to provide more assistance in shopping scenarios."