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Tech Bytes: Three Ways Voice is Enabling Omnichannel Retail


Spoken word is the oldest form of human communication.

It’s also one of the newest technology trends enabling omnichannel retail. Voice-based communications are having on a dramatic impact on how retailing is seamlessly executed. Here are three key areas where voice is supporting omnichannel operations across the retail enterprise.


Hard to believe that the success of the entire omnichannel retail experience depends on a warehouse employee selecting the right item. But it does. Even real-time inventory awareness solutions cannot control the picking process.

In recent years, retailers have replaced manual, paper-based picking procedures with “pick to light” systems that automatically tell employees what to pick with brightly-lit displays. But even pick to light can take a while to learn and result in errors. Data from Honeywell and YouGov shows that an individual mispick in the U.S. costs a retailer $67, and that doesn’t account for the negative impact on branding and customer satisfaction.

Voice-directed picking solutions can help reduce errors while increasing speed, with faster training times. And quickly getting the correct merchandise out of the warehouse and into the hands of the customer is the physical fulfillment of the omnichannel customer promise.


In addition to expecting the correct goods on short notice, omnichannel consumers also expect ease of ordering and payment. And tapping or swiping a screen may not always be convenient enough for the modern multi-device shopper.

Ordering and purchasing merchandise by voice is in its infancy, but is poised to quickly grow as a mainstream commerce enabler. Domino’s Pizza offers a proprietary voice ordering system called Dom, and some retailers are partnering with the Ford Sync AppLink voice-activated smartphone system for in-vehicle voice orders.

As would be expected, traditional IT innovation leaders Amazon and Apple both have a big early stake in voice ordering. Amazon recently released its Echo voice-activated artificial intelligence device for general availability. Among Echo’s many convenient functions is the ability for Amazon Prime members to ask Echo to place an order for them. Echo has access to order history and can order the Prime-eligible item using default payment and shipping settings.

And Apple is releasing its new AppleTV set-top box device that integrates Siri voice-activated commands into its touch-enabled remote control. Consumers will be able to use voice commands for direct TV purchases. In addition, retailers such as Office Depot are letting customers conduct voice-activated product searches via Apple Watch apps.

Customer Service

Imagine allowing shoppers to have live conversations with experts on virtually any product in your store. Leveraging a solution based on Skype for Business, Microsoft is providing this capability in an affordable and manageable way.

Customers can scan the barcode of a product at a kiosk to bring up a detailed information page. If they wish to speak to someone, skill-based call routing will direct their inquiry to a remote expert for an immediate live Skype chat session. Retailers can also use expert Skype sessions to augment inquiries made online or via call center.

Now that retailers have discovered omnichannel relies on the store, they are also discovering it relies on voice. Maybe the next omnichannel innovation will be typewritten letters.

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