COVID-19 may push retailers to use voice assistants instead of touch screens
While it’s no longer thought to be a primary source of transmission of the novel coronavirus, people are still thinking twice before interacting with public touch screens. Throughout retail, some are seeing voice-driven technology as a perfect solution that lets customers interact with automated kiosks while keeping their hands to themselves.
Circle K, Delaware North, Dunkin’ and White Castle are a few of the retailers who have entered into an agreement with MasterCard to pilot a voice ordering artificial intelligence (AI) for their restaurant drive-thrus. The solution allows customers to speak in natural language and is capable of processing complex orders and substitutions as if the customer were speaking with a human being.
Before the pandemic, chains like McDonald’s had already been looking for ways to blend voice-based automated ordering into their drive-thru experience. In 2019, McDonald’s acquired a speech-based AI startup to gain technology for the effort, according to Mashable SE Asia.
Such voice solutions are appearing in other places where touch screen kiosks have grown familiar. Multiple startups have begun to roll out speech-recognition technology that can be implemented on existing touch screen kiosks in restaurants and retail stores, allowing screen-based kiosks used for ordering, product search and other in-store tasks to reliably take voice commands.
Retail-adjacent areas like hotels and cruise ships, which have likewise been battered by the dangers and constraints of the novel coronavirus pandemic, are also introducing voice controls to try to make guests feel more comfortable, according to a PYMNTS article.
Previous to the pandemic, much of the discussion about voice controls and voice commerce centered around the proliferation of in-home devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home. While these devices proved popular and received big pushes by their respective vendors, the amount of shopping done through the devices lagged.
Customer concerns over privacy and the difficulty of the buying process while using a smart speaker were two big reasons experts gave for the slow uptake on voice-based home shopping. In fact, experts pointed to the lack of screens as being a prime factor rendering shopping more difficult by voice assistant.
- SoundHound Inc. Partners With Mastercard to Voice-Enable Consumer Shopping Experiences – SoundHound Inc./Business Wire
- Pandemic Drives Consumer, Business Interest In Voice-Assisted Commerce – PYMNTS
- McDonald’s buys voice-based AI to speed up ordering – Mashable ASIA
- Touchless.ai introduces intuitive speech-enabled technology to prevent Covid-19 infection from touchscreens – Touchless.ai/New Tech Europe
- Voice-ordering kiosks limit contact at cafes during epidemic – Political Lore
- Why isn’t voice commerce taking off? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will the desire to avoid the touching surfaces drive mass use of voice-assisted kiosks, and might they replace touch screens altogether? What impact might this have on in-home use of the voice-assisted technology?