Voice commerce

Definition of voice commerce:

Voice commerce is a technology that helps reduce the end-users’ dependence on hardware and allowing them to use voice commands to search and purchase products online.

When did voice commerce emerge?

Voice recognition technology dates back as far as 1961, when IBM engineer William C, Dersch created the first-ever voice recognition system, called “Shoebox”. It recognized 16 spoken words, but at the time, was only used to calculate math problems. Nonetheless, it was the first step into the world of voice technology. In 2011, voice assistant, Siri, became available on iPhones, and in 2012, Android launched their own voice assistant in 2012.

However, though voice technology and voice assistants aren’t recent innovations, the adoption of voice commerce is still relatively new. Consumers have only just started regularly using voice commands to search and shop online, and some still remain hesitant as they wait to test the waters of e-commerce’s hands-free approach. In the past 5 years, there has been a huge surge in voice-powered devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home, which has led to a parallel jump in consumers looking to try voice commerce. As more voice-enabled devices pop up on the market, it’s likely this trend will only continue to gain momentum.

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How does voice commerce work?

Voice commerce is meant to be, and is, simple to execute. From a consumer point-of-view, all you need is your voice. Then, you need to technology to make it happen. Here are the four requirements:

1. You need a device that has a voice assistant; this can be a smartphone or similar voice-activated devices (like Amazon Echo or Google Home).

2. You need to speak a command to activate the device, like “Hey Siri”.

3. You need to use a trigger word (usually a verb or action). For example, if you spoke the command, “Siri, order Product XYZ,” “order” would be the trigger word.

4. You must be mindful of your tones and inflections, as your device will recognize what it has captured and recognized to be your unique voice and will try to prevent order placement by what is suspected to be an “unknown” voice.

What are the benefits of voice commerce?

Voice-powered devices are used for several purposes, including listening to music, checking the temperature, searching for information online, and performing everyday activities like ordering food and shopping online. Because commerce is such a massive opportunity for voice technology, many companies have already taken advantage of voice commerce to improve their online customer experience. The main benefits are:


The biggest advantage of voice commerce is how easy it is to use. All you need to activate it is a device with a voice assistant and your own voice. It allows consumers to shop when they’re cooking, multitasking, or even driving. Purchasing products online has never been easier with hands-free voice commerce.

24/7 Availability

Consumers can purchase using voice commerce 24/7, as they would with any web store, but voice technology also allows them to do so more easily and quickly — without a lengthy browsing and purchasing process.

Speed of purchase

With voice commerce, a customer doesn’t have to log in or fill in their personal details on a company’s web store to purchase a product online: saving valuable time and maximizing ease.

Personalizing buying experiences

Because voice commerce is so easy to use, people tend to interact more with their devices. Devices can then gather more data from their owners, and use this data to personalize their customer experience. Companies that collect information on consumer behavior, preferences and historical data can develop powerful products and marketing strategies to beat competitors, while also delighting their customers with every purchase.

What are the challenges with voice commerce today?

Language limitations

Every human voice is unique, and computers may struggle to understand accents and intonations. Developers must continuously improve language features, to overcome this challenge. Currently, English is the most developed and most accurately recognized language in voice technology, but Amazon has started selling Echo devices to over 80 countries, so language development must be improved to keep up with demand.

Making interactions more “human”

Besides the language barriers, voice programs also struggle to make interactions with voice assistants feel more intuitive and natural, like those between two people. Solving this issue could have an impact on consumer trust of voice technology and drive more usage worldwide.

Knowledge gap

There’s a lack of information on the capabilities of voice assistants, and many consumers don’t purchase or use voice assistants because they feel like they have little to no knowledge of what a voice assistant can do, how to use it, or if there are risks involved in doing so.

Lack of trust

Consumers who are using voice commerce often only use it for reordering items they have purchased in the past. Currently, voice assistants are used for purchasing small and quick products, as there is a lack of trust in the technology with regards to handling larger or more complex orders.

Privacy concerns

Regulations around the processing of personal data, such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that came into effect in May 2018, are increasing around the world. These lead to more conversations around data protection, and in turn to more consumers becoming aware of the need to protect their online data.

Consumers in both B2C and B2B want privacy in their homes and on the internet. If companies want to increase voice commerce adoption, a solution needs to be developed to only keep the information needed to enable purchases and maximize security otherwise. It’s the responsibility of both B2C and B2B companies to properly inform their consumers and put their minds at ease when it comes to the security of voice-enabled devices.

What does the future of voice commerce look like?

Voice commerce has the potential to be a game-changer for B2C and B2B e-commerce, once the barriers to adoption are overcome. According to Google, 20% of all searches are already made via voice commands. Currently, the voice technology user base in the U.S. alone accounts for 42.7% of the population. Econsultancy forecasts that by 2020, voice commerce will account for half of all online searches. It is even expected to become a part of the brick-and-mortar shopping experience, allowing people to search for things online and in stores, just as they’d interact with a store clerk.

The opportunity for B2B companies

For B2B companies, voice commerce is a huge opportunity to not only improve processes in warehouses and offices but also to stand out among competitors. The B2B companies that are pioneers in adopting new technologies like voice commerce will be able to provide their B2B customers with memorable, simple and innovative online experiences.

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