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Voice-Activated Intelligent Assistants Are Already Influencing Holiday Shopping

For brick-and-mortar retailers, now is the time to think about technologies that will boost sales in December.

While the temperature is still in the 80s across most of the U.S., it’s not too early for retailers to think about the holiday season: Over a third of customers will start their shopping for the December holidays in October or earlier — and voice-activated intelligent assistants are already influencing consumers’ gift choices as a search tool, according to a new report from eMarketer.

As students head back to school and shoppers turn their attention to the fall and winter holidays, several trends from last year will hold true: Customers will start research early; they will look to their mobile and connected devices for guidance throughout the shopping journey both in-store and out; and retail sales — both physical and ecommerce — will grow. The key shift is in how customers looking for gifts are making their searches — and what kind of digital options they expect from the retailers they will patronize.

What does this mean for marketers?  Well, “consumers expect variable fulfillment options,” eMarketer‘s report states. “Half now buy online and pick up in-store.”

As such, implementing in-store pickup programs should be of great importance to retailers as they begin now to prepare for the holiday season. Several have seen the writing on the wall: Target, for its part, offers in-store pickup and also recently rolled out same-day delivery in advance of the holiday sales push.

Secondly, as voice-searches continue to surge — especially those made via voice-activated intelligent assistants — they will continue to impact the way that customers discover and choose products across the board. This is a trend for retailers to be mindful of now, considering that eMarketer reports that the technology is already assisting users with searches related to the holiday season.

“The way to participate [here] is for a business to develop a ‘skill,’” said Bing Ads’s Purna Virji in a panel discussion on the topic last month. “To use a travel example, if Expedia had a skill that it creates for Cortana, I could talk to Cortana to book me a flight. I could say, ‘I’m going to Boston next week, can you get me a hotel?’” This works for retailers as well.

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, brands can begin the process of listing or correcting their digital location information, products/offerings, and more such voice-activated assistants may see them as the best option to recommend when a consumer makes a branded or unbranded search.

As J. Walter Thompson’s Elizabeth Cherin explained in a conversation with GeoMarketing at Cannes Lions this year, “This idea of algorithm optimization [is] like the new SEO: Brands [need to get their] underlying data layer ready for consumption by these devices.”