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The age of voice: Insights from Voice Summit 2019

In addition to the billions of smart phones out there with voice capability, a new home tech segment of Smart Speakers has emerged. Devices that not only include voice recognition, but also the AI that lets you make non-specific requests that are magically understood and acted upon. According to research earlier this year by voicetech.ai and Voicify, there are already over 130 million smart speakers out there. Amazon is well in the lead with their Echo range, but Google and Apple are working hard to grab share.

I had the opportunity recently to get fully absorbed in the voice/ai revolution at Voice Summit 2019, hosted by the New Jersey Institute of Technology, attracting over 3000 voice techies from more than 25 countries. It was an enlightening event. What surprised me most of all, is that this area of tech, which I had believed was well advanced, is actually at a very nascent stage of development! I learned that in the USA, the largest market for smart speaker adoption so far, just 0.4% of consumers have made an online purchase using voice search, and only 2.0% of Amazon Alexa owners – the largest type in use – have completed a voice ecommerce transaction. If you believe the hype, then the headroom for growth is incredible. A few highlights include:

David Isbitski, Chief Alexa Evangalist at Amazon, talked about the shift from NLP, or Natural Language Processing, to NLU, Natural Language Understanding. This shift will open the way to more and more natural conversational exchanges between people and devices, whether that’s a smart speaker, a refrigerator or your car. NLU is not simply a clever way to recognize what you said, but to understand what you meant. There are already over 90000 Alexa Skills, but many of these are very simple. Voice is not optimal for browsing, but very powerful for searching.

Adam Cheyer, the co-founder of Siri (sold to Apple), talked about the mega tech shifts that occur about every ten years. He observed that we are still in the Mobile tech phase – 2018 marked the 10th anniversary of the Apple AppStore, but that the Voice wave is starting to crest. He described how the voice growth wave will likely come in four stages:

  • Entertainment and gamification of voice search tech – gets consumers used to the new paradigm. Analogous with how early smart phone users played candy crush and Angry Birds to get used to the new gestures that were possible – and helpful for ecommerce and productivity apps.
  • Information services emerge, simply asking for basic responses.
  • Adding voice search capabilities to more complex services that already exist;
  • Move to full conversational commerce adoption.

So where does location tech fit into this new paradigm of voice search? Research shows being able to share your accurate location or address quickly, easily and conveniently makes us more likely to complete an online transaction – and so the added convenience of doing this with a simple voice exchange only makes an ecommerce journey even more friction-free.

When AI and NLU is applied to conversational commerce, customers can become more vague in their demands, but if you are buying a gift to be sent to a loved one, being able to accurately add the location at the checkout without ever typing it, or even seeing a screen, not only means that the item gets where its going first time –but builds loyalty and an incentive to return.

In this blog I’ve focussed on the wider Voice market and the opportunities for Location Services with Voice, but in the next blogs Ill talk more about how Voice AI will help companies to know their customers even better, to allow them to access products and services based on their unique identity, and keep the bad actors off your platform.



Matthew Furneuax is Global Commercial Director for location intelligence specialists Loqate. As Co-founder of Global Address in the late 1990s, he helped to create the International Address Verification sector as we know it today, and since then has spent the past two decades working in the field of commercial technology, with most of this time specialising in data quality and location intelligence. Matthew joined Loqate in 2013 to lead the international Address Verification business, and now, as Global Commercial Director across the international Location Intelligence business, Matthew is responsible for setting future strategy and aligning customer needs and behaviours with Loqate’s technology solutions.


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