EZNeeds Launches Voice Shopping Alexa Skill with Help of Blutag
The future of voice commerce received another vote of confidence this week as online wholesale grocer EZneeds launched an Alexa skill with the help of Alexa Accelerator graduate Blutag. EZneeds is leveraging Amazon Pay as part of its solution so customers can purchase from the skill without having to link to an external account. Shoppers only need to grant permission for EZneeds to share their name and receive email communication related to the order. The payment is processed by Amazon based on the credit card associated with the account. Fulfillment is completed directly by EZneeds. Consumers can place orders from a catalog of over 18,000 SKUs.
A New Model for Retailers
If this model sounds familiar, you may recall that Walmart recently took a similar approach for Google Assistant. Walmart previously had participated in Google Express which handled the entire shopping experience from product search and selection through payment and fulfillment. However, the Bentonville, Arkansas retailer withdrew from that program in January and last month launched a Google Action that enables users to shop and purchase items directly without the Google Express intermediary. In contrast, consumers can today place orders through Alexa that are fulfilled by Amazon.com but retailers and product sellers have no way to influence those conversations. EZneeds is leveraging the infrastructure provided by Amazon Alexa and its reach into consumer homes to establish direct shopping interactions.
Asserting Control Over the User Experience
This approach enables EZneeds to benefit from the popularity of Alexa-enabled smart speakers but still maintain a degree of control over the user experience. Users are not aimlessly wandering through an Alexa-curated shopping experience the way they would with a direct query to Alexa. The product seller in that instance is Amazon and it determines how to route shopping inquiries.
EZneeds’ Alexa skill ensures that shoppers will be guided through a consistent shopping experience by the retailer. As a result, loyal shoppers will know precisely who they are ordering from and EZneeds can customize the experience in terms of how the product catalog is presented and if special deals are promoted. For example, users can request deals, coupons, and “receive personalized recommendations.” These are features that would not be available without a custom Alexa skill or Google Action.
EZneeds is not the first retailer to establish a presence on Alexa but is definitely among the first using the Amazon Pay integration. The approach has a critical benefit that is doesn’t require account linking which is an extra step that can lead to shopping cart abandonment. Best Buy’s Alexa skill has a number of features available to anonymous users, but shopping requires account linking which in turn requires setting up a new account or logging into an existing account. To be clear, new users of the EZneeds skill must go into their Alexa app and grant permission to share their name and email address. However, this is a one-time activity, is relatively quick, and paves the way to future purchases that involve no extra steps. Presumably, this approach will introduce less friction and therefore reduce shopping cart abandonment.
Code Free Alexa Skills for Retailers
Blutag positions itself as a code-free option for retailers that are looking to establish a presence on Alexa or Google Assistant. According to the company, it provides a content management system (CMS) for product catalogs combined with a custom natural language understanding (NLU) solution and a “voice-based checkout process.” The product catalog for the EZneeds implementation is managed through a direct between the retailer’s Shopify account and Blutag. Shilp Agarwal, CEO and co-founder of Blutag commented.
Voice commerce will completely change the way people shop because it adds a level of ease and personalization to their everyday tasks…Blutag is pleased to enable EZneeds’ early adoption of voice commerce to increase customer satisfaction and engagement by providing product search, orders and personalized recommendations from its store.
Voice Shopping on the Rise?
It is an open question whether consumers will adopt voice shopping en masse. Amazon said that voice shopping through Alexa tripled during the 2018 holiday season. A study published by Voicebot in collaboration with Voicify, the 2019 Smart Speaker Consumer Adoption Report, found that 15% of smart speaker owners said they were making purchases by voice at least monthly by the end of 2018. That figure was up from 13.6% in 2017. A Juniper study released in February forecasts voice commerce to reach $80 billion globally by 2023.
So, there are plenty of signs that suggest voice shopping could become an important channel for retailers and product sellers. The question then is how to take advantage of shifting consumer behaviors. Amazon’s dominant position in online retailing raises concerns about whether competing retailers should commit to the platform. The core motivation to do so is Alexa’s growing reach among consumers. EZneeds’ approach supported by Blutag is a reasonable middle ground that enables access to voice shopping consumers with some control over the consumer experience.