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  • Writer's pictureJaime González Gasque

Voice payment technologies: the opportunities, challenges and future trends

What are voice payments?

Touted as the new revolution, voice payments are already speeding up banking tasks, from logging in to bank accounts to activating cards and paying bills. Voice assistants have become commonplace in many homes – could any of us live our lives without Google Assistant or Alexa these days? In the US, 128 million people are estimated to use a voice assistant at least once a month, an increase of 11% of previous years.

UK users won’t be far behind as it is a technology that is booming. Its sophistication is increasing to such an extent that very soon, we’ll be asking more than the day’s weather forecast or what the headlines are.

But as Melinda Ziemer, director of marketing at LumenVox tells us, “voice commerce is expected to jump to $40B by 2022”. Everyone with a voice enabled device is using it for a diverse range of activities and searches from playing music to make their weekly shopping list.

The popularity of voice enabled devices cannot be denied. The number of smart speakers in US households has significantly increased in a short space of time. From December 2017 to the same month in 2019, 90 million more smart speakers had made their way into American homes. Arguably, businesses enjoy the smart speaker too.

But is making voice payments something that consumers can see themselves doing? Can small businesses be a part of this payment revolutions?

How voice payments are predicted to change consumer behaviour in the short, medium, and long term

According to consumer behaviour experts, consumers are willing to give voice payments a try. But what does this mean in reality?

David Linthicum, Chief Cloud Strategy Officer at Deloitte, cautiously agrees that voice payments will become mainstream in the coming years, although there are caveats to its use. Four years ago, voice assistants were considered a novelty and yet, a few years on, most households have embraced Google Assistant and Amazon Echo, to name just two.

“In the medium term,” says David “it will become more viable and widely used technology. Arguably, you could make a purchase whilst driving at 60mph or pay a bill on the move without access to a keyboard or having to stare at your phone”.

In the long term, David agrees that the technology will become ingrained into everyday life, “much like chatbots are today. In effect, the ability to pay bills and purchase goods, also with our voice will become second nature”.

Dylan Zwick from Pulse Labs believes that the concerns of people in the post-COVID era will be a factor in driving people forward. But it won’t just be that. “I think the greatest opportunity is in optimizing the automotive experience for drive-through or pick up food orders. Being able to manage all of that via voice while driving home is a big opportunity. Longer term, I think voice pay will be a ubiquitous option, with voice being a biometric identifier, and a way to interact with payment technologies hands-free, which will be more on people’s minds in a post-COVID world”.

Will voice payments benefit small business too?

For small businesses, there are many challenges. We’ve seen how smaller, independent retailers, for example, have felt the hard pinch of lockdown. Trying to compete with giants such as Amazon is almost impossible.

One example is the super-speedy delivery that some orders from the online retailer come with. Whilst some smaller businesses can deliver on next day delivery, same delivery is simply not possible.

Effectively, what Amazon and other retailers offer is convenience. And pretty soon, we could be seeing voice commands that alert Amazon, via its Echo voice assistant, to re-order certain goods or products.

For smaller business, completing with giants isn’t always about trying to outdo them, but leverage the same technologies to their advantage so that consumers will find buying from them just as simple, quick, easy and secure.

Consumers are seeking out small businesses and ethical retailers to buy from, and there are numerous reasons why they choose to do this. But what can put consumers off competing in the purchase process is a clunky and unfamiliar payment system.

Graeme McLean, a senior lecturer at the University of Strathclyde, believes that this technology will help small businesses compete with multi-national organisations, and the key is the convenience it offers consumers.

David Linthicum also agrees. “The idea is to provide a better consumer experience” he continues “and making purchases easier and more enjoyable. There is a market there for those small businesses that would like to exploit this technology right now”.

But Dylan Zwick from Pulse Labs isn’t so sure. “Honestly, right now I think it’s relatively limited” referring to voice payment technology. “Most of the experimental work will be done by larger companies. Should Starbucks be experimenting with voice payment technology in automobiles? Absolutely. Should a local coffee shop? Probably not. In the future, however, all the smaller businesses will want to and be able to use the same technology as the larger ones” he concludes.

The hurdles of voice payment technology

No new technology is not without its hurdles. Currently, the use of voice payment tech is becoming widespread through the banking and finance industries. For retailers of all shapes and sizes, learning from these early mistakes could pay dividends.

Lack of interoperability has been flagged by many as a key issue. Interoperability is where computer systems or software has the ability to exchange and make use of information, something that is currently lacking within this field. What this means is that the possibility for a small clutch of large companies to expand their footprint in the consumer market, effectively forcing out competitors.

The European Union has itself placed voice payments and assistants at the centre of antitrust investigations. For example, companies can program smart speakers to push all requests to buy a product from a single shopping site, such as Amazon, in effect bypassing competing offers from competitors, including the smaller businesses.

Acting in good time, argues the EU, stops competition from being pushed into a monopoly. But the EU also has concerns around data collection, and whether this gives companies unfair advantages over its competitors.

Think of this as walking into a high street store and seeing two or three brands of the same product. A consumer makes the choice that fits well with them, such as cost. But with voice-assisted technology, a consumer may only ‘see’ what their voice assistant, such as Siri or Google Assistant, are programmed to show them.

by Melinda Ziemer

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