The following is a guest post from Eric Seay, co-founder and chief experience officer at Audio UX. Opinions are the authors' own.
Thanks to the proliferation of digital assistants, commerce is now conversational. Just ask Alexa — doing so could even save you money. As an incentive for Amazon customers to participate in voice shopping, select items were eligible for discounts as high as 25% off on top of the standard deals for Prime Day 2020. The caveat: the additional value was only applicable when processed via voice.
The compounding price cuts certainly contributed to the record-breaking $1.4 billion saved this year on the event’s fifth anniversary. And this is seems to be only the beginning. This segment's forecast growth has already doubled from $40 billion by 2022 to $80 billion per annum by 2023. But not all that glitters is gold. Although the average household now has more than two smart speakers, not everyone is willing to adopt the new channel.
When using voice assistants, 41% of users are concerned about their privacy. The two biggest concerns cited are data security and passive listening. The discovery that machine learning also involves humans listening has people wondering who is really on the other end of their devices. What's stopping them from misusing the personal information they collect?
Amazon has responded with an updated privacy notice assuring users that it's compliant with payment data regulations, and it provides instructions on customizing information settings. Regardless of the measures taken, or the promises made, trust is not transactional. As is the case with all tech giants, Amazon has to earn that trust. Part of rebuilding that bond requires brands to curate experiences that make users feel safe, not just printing a new policy.
The sound of cyber shopping
Sonic branding is remarkably effective at building trust. Merely by sponsoring a live music event, brands can earn 83% more trust among millennials. In doing so, the perception of the brand can improve overall by 37%. In another study, traditional music outperformed contemporary music in terms of trustworthiness. Including the right kind of music in the marketing mix yields an emotional ROI that connects consumers with companies on a deeper level.
Long before verbalizing grocery lists and before we fully digitized retail experiences, there was a significant effort to score the in-store customer journey. Nearly 40 years ago, we learned that shoppers spent 34% more time at stores playing background music versus those that did not. If something as specific as a song's speed can influence how long buyers browse the aisles and even how much they fill their carts, brands can't ignore how their voice skills sound.
As payments have become less physical with an increase in contactless terminals, multisensory branding has become more critical. The tangible act of swiping a card is tactile. However, waving a device like a smartphone or a smartwatch near a terminal offers far less certainty, let alone speaking to an invisible agent. Sound cues can supplement the lack of touch. Moreover, they have the power to generate a more positive perception of the merchant by 81%.
Product sounds are powerful signifiers. Consider the sound of the lock screen on iOS. This satisfying "click" not only indicates that the iPhone is locked, but it carries with it the heuristic skeuomorphism of an actual padlock snapping into place. The learned behavior of familiar sounds is transferable into the experience, for better or worse. Now that Apple has built equity on using the sounds of a literal lock, any other competitor trying the same tactic will dilute both parties' audio identities.
Auditory icons alone have their limitations. Venmo has taken a similar approach to its push notification. In this case, it's the ka-ching of a cash register. The realism of using raw recordings has a more direct ability to trigger associations but can also lead to annoyance over time. Layering this concept into the composition of earcons (e.g., UX sounds) can help to ensure the underlying intent is understood while creating unique differentiation. The added melodic and harmonic content opens up a vast opportunity for really owning the audio branding.
Defining where earcons go within the user flow is as essential as designing what the sound is, if not more so. It is, after all, what puts the "UX" in UX sounds. Waiting until the point of transaction is likely too late. Conversely, too much noise will violate the concept of negative space.
Adding an aural authentication at an early stage adds a necessary amount of functional friction to increase user confidence. To omit erroneous orders, Alexa users can enable one of three Purchase Confirmations for Voice Purchasing: Voice Profile (biometric recognition), Voice Code (spoken PIN) or none of the above (disable confirmation). These extra steps offer outs before purchasing, but in effect, they're just lengthening the conversation. It's a missed opportunity to add delight to a routine task.
Mark Jamison, Visa's global head of innovation design, tells a story about using song snippets to indicate user confirmation and reported that "it tested off the charts." It's no surprise. People have a subconscious connection to music, especially when it comes to their go-to tunes. Streaming everyone's favorite artists isn't feasible for every financial application from cost and licensing perspectives. That said, the idea of a recognizable sonic signature is a brilliant way to signify a successful login.
Black Friday, every day
How will COVID-19 reshape the annual shopping day?
Amazon Prime has already premiered clearances almost a month ahead of schedule. Traditionally, Black Friday is the feature of the end-of-year spending spree, with Cyber Monday as a more recent encore. The lines are beginning to blur as the savings spread out throughout Q4. Traffic may or may not shift from the parking lot to smart speakers, but one thing is for sure: there have never been more alternatives to crowded department stores.
The always-on advantages of e-commerce, mixed with the hands-free functionality of voice tech, make things more convenient than ever before. Implementing strategic audio can augment how we engage with retail, providing more immersive engagement, and buying back the trust this innovative technology has lost.