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Amazon voice search leads the way in mcommerce despite flawed experience

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November 3, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 4.06.54 PMWhile Amazon’s introduction of voice search in its iPhone application is an important example of where mcommerce may be headed, the solution falls short at providing a strong user experience with too many irrelevant results.

Amazon’s iPhone app update last week optimized it for iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus phones while introducing the ability to search for products using voice. When the mobile commerce leader previously enabled shoppers to point the app at a product and search for it using image recognition technology, retailers such as Target and Macy’s quickly followed suit.

“On mobile, in particular, voice and search are going to be far more important than navigation,” said John Morrell, vice president of product marketing at EasyAsk. “Amazon has made a good first step but there is a lot more that they would need to do.

“Using the voice search, I looked for Panasonic home phones and the first couple of results were phones, but after that, I started to get things like batteries and head sets that were unrelated to my search,” he said.

“The key for Amazon, and what they haven’t done yet, is really trying to figure out the intent of the users shopping in their search box, regardless of whether it is voice or not. Is the search bringing back the most relevant results for what I am looking for?”

Finding the way
Given the small screen sizes of mobile devices, the ability to easily search for and find products related to a shopper’s interest is paramount. While on desktop, navigation can play a much bigger role by helping shoppers browse and discover new products, on mobile the goal is to get shoppers to what they are interested in as quickly as possible because they may only have a few minutes to shop.

A strong search solution can also reduce frustration for mobile users who do not want to type in a lot of keywords or scroll through multiple screens of results.

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 4.07.03 PM

Voice search has slowly been gaining ground in mobile commerce but the fact that Amazon is jumping on board suggests it is going mainstream.

EasyAsk, which provides ecommerce site search solutions, reports that a number of retailers have introduced voice search on their mobile sites, including The North Face, True Value Hardware, Bon-Ton, Journeys and J. Jill.

Relevancy needed
However, it is relatively easy to add voice on top of search, per Mr. Morrell.

The challenge lies in delivering an experience that enhances the mobile shopping experience by making it quick and easy to find products of interest. This requires having a strong search box to begin with.

“If your search isn’t any good, then putting voice on top of your app is only paying lip service,” Mr. Morrell said.

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On desktop, Amazon helps shoppers narrow their search with suggestions to look in other categories. When Mr. Morrell used the voice search in the Amazon app, he did not get any such suggestions, which is why the search brought back around 2,000 different results.

Amazon continues to advance the commerce experience in a number of ways.

For example, it has integrated Apple’s Touch ID so that app users can log in with a simple touch of their finger.

With Amazon now offering voice, other retailers may quickly follow suit so that they do not appear to be lagging best-in-class mobile commerce experiences.

“Voice search needs the ability to better refine relevancy, what products are most relevant to you and to better refine how it decides to display results,” Mr. Morrell said. “Scrolling down that list of 2,000 products, very quickly you get tired of it.”

Final Take
Chantal Tode is senior editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York

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