Another day, another story of apparent Retail doom and gloom.  Household names with often decades of success behind them continue to succumb to the multiple challenges facing the sector - rising rents and rates, pressure on margins, increasing competition from Pure Play adversaries, a radically and rapidly changing consumer base with reduced spending power and a resulting massive squeeze on growth.  Even huge, institutional names in Retail are not immune and the high street continues to lose brands which have long been part of the landscape.

'Old Retail' is dead.  Not the very tenets of offering goods and services for sale, but the way that Retailers must now go about understanding their customers to ensure that costs don't outweigh profits and the ways in which digital transformation can harness technical innovation to offer an experience that keeps consumers coming back.  One such 'zeitgeist' technology is voice-activated Retail - the ability to provide a simple, reliable and, dare I say it, 'fun' way to interact.

Digital home assistants in the shape of Amazon's Alexa, Google Assist, Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana have caught the public's imagination and recent statistics suggest that 39% of consumers own such a device, but 60% never browse the internet with one and even fewer yet use one to actually buy anything.  To make technical life as simple as possible such devices have standardised Application Program Interfaces (APIs) meaning that developers can build an integration capability with back-end Retail/Hospitality systems but as yet, few Retailers are exploiting the potential.  There are some notable exceptions, but in general CIOs and those responsible for creating momentum behind digital transformation programmes need to accelerate their evaluation of this important innovation.

There are a number of reasons why voice-activated Retail is important.  The 2018 Voice Survey of 600 digital Retail decision-makers commissioned by Globant delivered the following insight into priorities:

"Faster customer service responsiveness - 34%

"Connecting people in a more conversational manner" - 23%

"Improved produce/service search” - 22%

"Easy re-ordering capabilities" - 13%

"A new advertising & Marketing channel" - 8%.

The use of Chatbots (many of which are becoming scarily difficult to recognise) in online service -centres is one thing, but the ability to purchase your pizza by simply saying "Alexa, ask Domino's to feed me" is quite another.  Such innovation ticks a number of those priorities listed above - and, if I can return to an earlier theme, it's fun, too.  It appeals to today's techy-savvy generation, it's fast and it's reliable - and from the Retailer's viewpoint it introduces internal operational efficiencies which provide the opportunity to lower costs and as a result, improve margins.  In the on-going battle against enforced operational transformation, that's a very good thing.

Retailers: if ANY of this resonates with your innovation strategy (and it really, really should...) now is the time to find your voice.