Voice search is weaving itself into the fabric of mainstream consumer engagement. Device integration and consumer adoption have surged and show no signs of slowing. Alexa emerged as the media darling of CES 2017, and similar voice assistants (Google Assistant, Siri, Cortana, etc.) are driving new headlines every day. This trend is further buoyed by the fact that 20% of all Google mobile queries last year were voice searches.

Voice search is now a critical requirement for brands and a key means of engaging customers. For retailers, the challenge is not deciding whether they need a voice search strategy (they do), but realising that integrating voice search is not as simple as cutting and pasting a voice-enabled front end onto their existing site search function.

To make it an effective and relevant engagement point, retailers must understand customer expectations and behaviours regarding voice search. Only then can retailers deliver a successful voice-enabled search experience.

Here are four things retailers need to know when developing their voice search strategy.

Unique results

Results must be unique to each individual customer. As consumer adoption and usage of every existing voice solution increases, it raises the bar for consumer expectations, regardless of what your brand delivers. Launching a voice search solution that isn’t on par with Siri or Alexa will only frustrate customers and make them think less of your brand.

Whenever you engage with one of these voice solutions the results must have individual context and relevance. For example, when I say “reorder razor blades,” it’s recognising me as an individual and considering my past experiences and purchases before placing an order for my preferred brand of blades.

Original input

Let customers search in their own words. Voice search is based on the way people express themselves, not on the concept of entering text into a box. While on a website, an individual may type in “black dress,” but conversationally they might add more context such as, “show me black dresses under $100.” The majority of site search solutions lack natural language processing (NLP) and therefore can’t deliver relevant results for that conversational voice query. They will instead simply show black dresses.

For consumers, that is a failed experience. They’re left to believe the voice search function is either broken or technically inferior to others they’ve experienced. If I asked for “t-shirts available in XL” would your current site search be able to deliver accurate results? The addition of NLP enables retailers to listen and respond to consumers’ conversational queries and opens the door to a host of innovative new voice search functionalities.

Universal search

Get the most out of your content with universal search results. For years, brands have been adding content to their sites to help customers get great suggestions, strengthen the brand relationship, as well as expand their SEO reach. But this content isn’t included in search results. Brands need to include things other than products in search results – such as the store location and map results.

This is universal search, the ability to include more than product data sets including mapping, brand content, videos, FAQs, etc. When consumers make these requests – which they are already doing on your sites –  they are more than likely getting null responses because it doesn’t understand the input. As consumers move more quickly to voice search and become more confident in its ability to understand them, this will become a very real and potentially costly challenge.

Image search

A picture is worth a thousand words. In updating their site search functionality to best handle voice searches, it’s easy for brands to forget about photo search. Today’s digital customer has adopted images and photos even more than voice.

Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat and others provide great examples of how many photos and consumable images we take in every day. On the road to more engaging search results, brands must also consider adding a photo search option as well, particularly on mobile. If I saw a bag I loved while out with friends and snapped a quick picture, I should be able to quickly attach that photo to a search query and see if you offer anything similar. Trying to describe a picture of a bag via text and scour through results is a time-consuming endeavour that no customer wants to deal with.

To ensure you are launching an effective and relevant voice search strategy, make sure you’re able to check the boxes above so you are best able to meet the expectations of today’s digital consumer.