Stores may use voice assistants to transform shopping, retail consultant says

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KEY POINTS
  • Voice assistants may play a big role in how people shop after the coronavirus pandemic, retail consultant Jan Kniffen told CNBC on Tuesday.
  • Kniffen, a former department store executive, said on “The Exchange” retailers will need to solve the problem of people not wanting to stand in line outside a store and this is one way to do it.
  • The technology to make it happen already exists and retailers can implement it soon, Kniffen said.

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Voice assistants may play a big role in how people shop after the coronavirus pandemic, retail consultant Jan Kniffen told CNBC on Tuesday.

Kniffen said on “The Exchange” that retailers will need to solve the problem of people not wanting to stand in line outside a store, which has happened in some instances due to capacity limits and the need to maintain social distancing. Voice assistants could be a solution, he said.

For example, he said shoppers could drive into a parking lot and instead of needing to leave their car, a voice assistant could tell them their place in line — and then ask what the person hoped to buy so it could check on product availability.

This type of interaction may seem distant, but Kniffen said the technology to make it happen already exists and argued it can be implemented soon.

“It can be done. Everybody is working on it,” said Kniffen, CEO of J Rogers Kniffen WWE. “You’re going to start seeing drive-thrus at the mall now, which we don’t really have now, because people want that and they’re not going to want to get out of their cars.”

Kniffen, a former executive at The May Department Stores, said these type of voice-assistant shopping experiences will be aided by consumers being a part of a retailer’s rewards program or having their app. If that is the case, the company will be “able to talk to you, and they’re going to want to do it by voice because when you’re driving, you’d prefer it be voice activated,” he said.

There will of course be instances in which people prefer to go into stores and shop, Kniffen said. But in general, he argued many of the ways retailers have adapted to the upheaval from the coronavirus, such as wider availability of curbside pickup and more delivery, will remain in place. This may be expensive for companies, but he said customers will be happier.

“We’re going to see more of what’s happening now,” he said, “just done better.”

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