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Digital assistants are here!

Digital assistants are here!

How smart speakers, smart displays and co. are changing online shopping

5/21/2019 Editor Michael Strothoff Reading time: 3 Minutes
Who can remember how the first iPhones were used in 2007? Exactly. They were mostly used to make calls, write texts and to listen to music as a slightly better iPod. Twelve years later they are a shopping mall, navigation device, photo studio and communication channel that fits in your trouser pocket. The functions that make a smartphone so indispensable for many people today were only added little by little.

Why this look back? For many experts, digital assistants are now at the exact point that the iPhone was at back in 2007. We use smart speakers such as Google Home and Amazon Echo for music, to ask about the weather and to turn the light on and off. Other highlight functions are still to come. The first smart display platform from Google was recently launched in Germany. And the development continues: the first “smart clocks” are just entering the market, which function as an alarm clock with an integrated Google Assistant. In the medium term it can be assumed that digital assistants will insert themselves “natively” into the living environment – such as in furniture items or pre-installed home technology. Digital assistants are becoming increasingly present, in all locations, around the clock.

Despite the current smart speaker hype – the growth rate for smart speakers is larger than it was for smartphones in 2008 – the field is still just getting started in Germany. “It is still a market that has hardly been explored and is barely occupied”, says Tom Meyer, Product & Design Team Leader at OTTO. “But the manufacturers are consistently pushing ahead with developments and in the coming years customers will become increasingly used to having a digital assistant in their home. The result is that there becomes an expectation that we as an online retailer will use these applications and also make them usable for the OTTO shop”, explains Tom. This means that OTTO must in future also be available to customers via these touchpoints, understand the language and content of their requests and quickly deliver a personal, satisfactory answer. In order to fufil these requirements of tomorrow, today the focus in on the agile “testing & learn” practices. That’s because for this technology it’s currently a case of: test, readjust, test, readjust and test again

It is important for us as an online retailer to already be present on these devices and to learn from them.

Tom Meyer, Product & Design Team Leader at OTTO

As is true for many new technologies, there is another important factor in the use of digital assistants: speed. Back in 2017, OTTO therefore published an action for the Google Assistant which is also available on all Google Home loudspeakers and smart displays, as well as on Android smartphones. iOS users can use the action via the Google Assistant app. Since then, OTTO customers have been able to, for example, ask questions about the range on and enquire about the current delivery status of their order, on demand. Thanks to a recent development, for the “deal of the day” the purchase can even be initiated by voice command. The programme is activated by the sentence, “Ok Google, talk to OTTO”.

Learning for tomorrow, today

“Using these initial functions we can optimally test how customers use digital assistants when online shopping and recognise their needs early on. We then consider these during further development. Because of this, it is important for us as an online retailer to already be present on these devices and to learn from them”, explains Tom.

But will customers in the future shop online using only digital assistants? “No”, says Jörg Heinemann, Innovation & Digitalisation Principal at OTTO, “in fact, with digital assistants, digital dialogue is being brought to the fore even more.” When it comes to expensive or complex products in particular, customers have plenty of questions and require advice. Digital assistants with a display such as a smart TV or a smart display platform offer the perfect opportunity for this. A conceivable scenario:

A couple want to buy a new corner sofa. They sit in front of a smart TV and navigate through the OTTO shop. They find a corner sofa that they like, and ask: “How long and wide is the sofa?” The exact measurements automatically appear on the screen. In other words, the assistant directly provides a visual answer to a question. Let’s take another example: a customer needs a new laptop and wants to buy a graphics card that is a suitable size to go with it. Instead of trawling through the technical specifications, he asks the question: “Which graphics card fits in this laptop?” A selection of suitable graphics cards directly appears.

Jörg Heinemann With digital assistants, digital dialogue is being brought to the fore even more

Jörg Heinemann, Principal at OTTO

Expanding the customer journey

Digital assistants are therefore not going to turn e-commerce completely on its head – instead they will expand it or simply be another step in the customer journey. Here is another potential scenario for the future: as I’m drying the dishes, I decide that I need a new drying cloth. Unfortunately my hands are wet and I can’t use my smartphone, so I simply say: “Ok Google, I need new tea towels.” A new tea towel is not immediately ordered, but in the background the assistant searches for a personalised selection of the top 3 tea towels, on OTTO, for example, and places them in a memo. The next time I visit the shop, the memo list reminds me of the tea towels and I can complete the purchase using a screen device, such as my smartphone or a smart display.

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