Published as part of our best blog posts of 2019, originally posted 7/8/19

Standing out in the e-commerce industry can be a challenge with so much innovation happening every day. If you are currently selling products on a number of channels, one way to stand out is expanding your offering through voice with Alexa.

To help you create the best experience for your customers, this month’s 10in20 thought leadership webinar helps you think through how to create the right commerce based skill with Alexa to delight your shoppers.

What is 10in20?

It’s a monthly series where we cover one topic in 10 questions, points, or ideas, and we do it in 20-minutes or less. Why so short? We recognize your time is precious; we have condensed our thought leadership webinar series from the typical hour into 20 minutes.

10 tips and strategies to expand your commerce experience to voice

We are at the very early stage of the third era of commerce – Voice. This powerful medium will transform our day-to-day lives and how we purchase. Central to emergence of voice, is the development of connected experiences for customers so they can interact and transact where, when and how they want. Their choice, and at their convenience.

As you look for ways to create convenient shopping experiences on behalf of your customers, we’ve developed a short list of 10 guidelines and considerations to help you get quickly started with voice commerce on Alexa.

One of the key takeaways is that voice shopping is different from mobile or desktop e-commerce, and there are specific ways to make the experience one your customers love. Here’s a recap of the main points from our webinar:

  1. Own the moment - Create Alexa Skills around certain events in your customers’ shopping journey, such as looking for a package to arrive or ordering coffee as they are walking out the door. Good news! We just announced a capability for Amazon Pay merchants that enables customers to receive a proactive Alexa notification when their order has been delivered.
  2. Think voice-only value add - One good way to identify these opportunities is by focusing on the top reasons your customer may call your customer service line, or what may have been done through an in-store associate. You can add value to the experience and save your customer time by addressing common questions like “Is my size in stock” or requests, such as “Send the newest black boots to my phone”.
  3. Focus on habitual purchases - It’s OK if the skill does nothing but reorder – some of the most successful skills do just this. Help your customers easily reorder, track their purchases, and buy related items from you using previous shopping data and tracking reorder needs.
  4. Limit your offerings - Less is more. Some of the most successful Alexa Skills just concentrate on facilitating purchases of top items. 
  5. Highlight products and services that are new - Sell popular products and services that customers already know or have bought and that do not require hands-on evaluation. Customers tend to choose convenience here.
  6. Sell low complexity, low-risk items - Sell popular products and services that customers already know or have bought and that do not require hands-on evaluation. Customers tend to choose convenience here.
  7. Remember that voice is different - Keep product and service descriptions crisp using the most critical information that customers can digest by hearing it once. Simplicity is key.
  8. Use your top customer inquiry as your first Alexa Skill - Start using voice as an augmentation to your commerce programme by developing an easy skill you know your customers will use right away. From there you can also expand your skills to handle more complex commerce. For example, if you deliver your product, create a skill allowing customers to receive an update on the delivery time. Even if an order was made on a mobile device, your customer should be able to interact with you via Alexa.
  9. Provide a consistent shopping experience across channels - Your skill can be as simple as “Check the status of my web order” or “Add something to my wish list”, allowing customers to purchase via web. If you have Amazon Pay on your website, you can make it seamless for your customer.
  10. Offer a seamless purchasing experience with Amazon Pay for Alexa Skills - Incorporating a payment solution can simplify your customer’s checkout experience wherever they are, whenever they need to buy.

Q&A with Kris Zanuldin, Head of Connected Commerce at Amazon Pay

Q: Where can we find resources for building a new Alexa skill?

Kris: Go to developer.amazon.com as a starting point. Alexa has a very significant section of resources. I'd also connect with your solution provider or agency, depending on your setup. We are collaborating more with agencies to build robust Alexa experiences. If you do have an agency, more likely than not, we’ve engaged with them and they will be a great place to start. If you are an individual developer, or a business that is doing it in house or by yourself, there is a lot of great material at developer.amazon.com from a self-service perspective.

Q: You mentioned focusing on habitual purchases, what are of the most relevant habits we should consider?

Kris: We tend to think about habits that are purely transactional in nature. The easiest scenarios that come to mind are shaving kits, paper towels, etc. I have to reorder items at some point, so reorder is a habit of many customers. Customers frequently ask “where’s my stuff” or “what’s going on with my order” – while these are not necessarily habits, they are high frequency actions. It's also important to think beyond daily habits, as they can happen on a weekly or monthly basis. It doesn’t have to be transactional in nature. Whether its booking a spin class every week or a yoga class, those are services that, though not necessarily considered habitual in nature, are great places to start making your customers lives easier.

Q: Voice seems to largely be an activity for pre-purchase. When will we see this shift toward payment?

Kris: My opinion is that there are two major thigns that will happen that will eventually shift voice to more of a large scale transactional experience. The first will come from Amazon, and the second will come from the collective community including those reading this.

One of the challenges we’ve seen, is that people tend to start with Alexa thinking 'I have a great web and mobile experience, let me port it over to Alexa'. When the first iPhone came out, everyone had a poor mobile experience as companies tried to port the web experience over to mobile, but we got better at it. Even then, there were some fundamental experiences from web to mobile that stayed consistent, whereas voice, in some respects, is a brand new way of thinking.

Until we get a large part of the community thinking about optimising the voice experience, it will be hard to get customers to engage. I think it’s just a matter of time before that happens. I don’t want to date myself, but I’ve seen this happen three times already.

Secondly, we tend to judge technology in early stages by not seeing what it could be in the future. How many of you remember the days when people said “We’re never going to watch movies on mobile phones – ‘the screens are two small’, ‘bandwidth is too high’, ‘it’s never going to happen’.” Now I sit on the bus and see that happening every day.

When you think about contextual relevance, as Alexa the cloud based voice service is continuing to get smarter. That means over time, she will continue to have more context about the customer and situation. That actually puts less pressure on us as developers and businesses, when we are building experiences. We can continue to reduce the amount of turns required for a voice experience. A turn is every time you say something to Alexa. You can go from 10-turn experience to 3-turn experience when more context if provided automatically. I think that is going to happen over time, and when that does happen, you are going to see a main stream shift.

Q: Are there any specific verticals that you think are more relevant for voice?

Kris: I think that no matter what business area or vertical you are in, you have a opportunity with Alexa. You can be in physical goods high ticket/high consideration items which may seem like the hardest ‘how do I buy a $1000 couch with Alexa without even seeing it’. We have multi-modal devices that can solve for that. Maybe you don’t have to create a purchase experience – maybe it’s more of a recommender or ‘add to my wishlist’, or ‘remind me’. When it comes to transactions, which is the spirit of the question, low ticket, high frequency is always good. Alexa is ideal for habits. Something customers do on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. If you are in a vertical that caters to those types of scenarios, you are in an ideal situation. But if you are not, don’t be discouraged, we ourselves found ways like delivery notifications, find ways to open Alexa for any type of business.