Ai Editorial: 6 ways to improve voice-enabled travel shopping

6th February, 2020

Ai Editorial: Voice is the next frontier for travel e-commerce players and travel technology specialists. Voice technology has been around for a while, but still has a long way to go when it comes to answering complex searches/ questions, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta


Asking Alexa to pay for gas in the U. S. or ordering a Starbucks coffee via a Tmall Genie smart speaker in China are the sort of developments that make voice technology irrefutably exciting. In this case, technology is becoming a stronger ally. Simply because it complements a more natural style of interaction: the spoken word.

The fact voice, be it for search on an interface or via an assistant, simplifies the task in hand makes it a luring proposition. And on top of it, if the context is understood and user privacy is respected, then it is definitely a game-changer in the arena of shopping.

No doubt, it will revolutionize how people find/ learn and plan their travel. The likes of Virgin Trains, Expedia, Kayak, easyJet etc. have proved that the travel  sector has been making swift progress in this arena.

It’s about the spoken word, so has to be understood first

Digital voice assistants such as Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana are widely known today. As assistants or interfaces within a digital platform facilitate voice interaction within our homes, work and cars, the opportunities for brands, too, increase.

If we talk of devices, consumers are buying voice-enabled products at a rapid pace. Voice search is also a common phenomenon now. According to a study initiated by Amazon Pay last year, 20% of American consumers are likely to buy a product or service using voice in the next three years. At the same time, from users’ perspective, there is a lot to learn and voice-enabled shopping era has just begun. Google acknowledges it. Amazon, too, says we are in the very early stages of the third era – voice.

The fact users still prefer text-based searches for more complex searches/ questions indicates that voice-based search or interaction isn’t there yet.

It still boils down to where it all started i. e. facilitating a task, search or a transaction via the spoken word, and for that the words (an even the intent) needs to be understood. But comprehending is an extremely challenging proposition. Google highlights the same. The search giant comes across billions of searches every day. But 15 out of every 100 searches ones it hasn’t seen before. So the team has to find ways to produce results for queries it can’t anticipate! With reference to voice search, specialists also point out that the main hurdle at the moment is - unable to really handle “why” and “how”  questions, be it for powering search via a digital interface or featuring in an interaction with a personal assistant.

Signaling progress, Google recently shared that with its neural network-based technique for natural language processing, the focus is on processing words in relation to all the other words in a sentence, rather than one-by-one in order. Google is confident that its algorithms are starting to comprehend certain nuances better, for instance, the word “to” and its relationship to the other words in the query.

In terms of direct investment, travel companies are refining their interfaces, so that they can facilitate seamless journey.

Preparing for voice-based experiences:

  1. Voice-first mindset:  Start and continue to focus on voice-specific requirement. How can voice travelers find a solution to a specific problem?  Which aspects of the trip through current digital channels are cumbersome or tedious, and how can voice make the experience better?
  1. Skyscanner recommends that companies should start by creating content that sounds ‘natural’ - natural language and branded search terms. Also, focus on search engine optimization of the voice channel.
  1. Amadeus recommends that one needs to craft clean, fast and intuitive UI for users to search for flight and hotel offers, both by voice and chat.
  1. Think multi-channel: Let shoppers start checkout on any platform, for intsance, mobile app and complete the purchase via an assistant, or vice versa.
  1. Work out a simple flow for transactions.
  1. Focus on privacy and security

Connected living

Ecosystems like Alibaba and Amazon are driving new experiences.

For instance, in case of Alibaba, an order placed with Starbucks via a smart speaker can be tracked in real-time and gets delivered within 30 minutes. In addition, connect their membership accounts to the smart speaker, plus receive personalized recommendations.  All the sectors, including the travel industry, need to focus on connected living. It means our lives, across our respective homes, offices, cars etc.,  – are connected via smart devices. These bring together data, voice, video etc. to facilitate incessant experiences, as per our personal needs. At the same time, it shouldn’t be forgotten that people embrace technology for a better living that includes safety, and have high expectations around how those devices and even interactions handle their privacy. Manufacturers of voice-assisted IoT devices have to combat consumer fears regarding security and data privacy.

In its recap of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), wirecard highlighted how the way we travel, shop and work will continue to change dramatically this decade. For businesses to not just survive, but thrive, they need to shift with the times and provide new, integrated commerce experiences – whenever, however and wherever the consumer expects them. And expect voice-enabled experiences, to be an integral part of the same.


Keen on exploring topics related to digital commerce? Ai has planned #AncillaryRevenue Conferences in Berlin, Bangkok and San Antonio in 2020: