Digital Assistants Go Shopping

March 04, 2015

Contributor: Heather Pemberton Levy

Within the next two years, autonomous mobile assistant purchasing will reach $2 billion annually. What does this mean for your organization?

Ruth, a thirty-four-year old mother, frequently asks the digital assistant on her phone for directions to the houses of her children’s friends. While she’s driving, she often remembers items she needs to buy for her family. She’d really like to ask her digital assistant to order more paper towels, laundry detergent, and boys’ tube socks. Her wish isn’t far off. By the end of 2016, more than $2 billion in online shopping will be performed exclusively by mobile digital assistants.

Many consumers already use mobile digital assistant technologies, such as Google Now, Siri and Cortana for basic spoken questions and commands tied into time and place. These technologies connect pieces of need/want assessment, information gathering and evaluation, and other elements along a buying process – but without autonomous purchasing.

Buying Backpacks and Movie Tickets

By the end of 2015, mobile digital assistants will have taken on mundane tactical processes such as filling out name, address, credit card information. Fixed events such as grocery replenishment (buying paper towels every three weeks or getting new filter for ice maker) will be common and will build trust for these types of assistants to take on more.

That’s when more complex purchasing decisions start to kick in, says Adam Sarner, research vice president at Gartner. Ruth's assistant could buy back-to-school backpacks (something superhero-themed and in stock) in time for her child's first day back to school and conduct chained events — such as scheduling a highly rated, date-type movie along with dinner and car pickup on her anniversary.

Within the next two years, autonomous mobile assistant purchasing will reach $2 billion annually. That means about 2.5% of mobile users will trust their digital assistants with $50 per year. Digital assistants will be on multiple platforms; however, mobile will be the most accessible, adopted device for digital assistants and will be the “killer application” by the end of 2016.

Offload Decision Making

With almost three billion people worldwide now having gone online, the drivers are clear. The explosive adoption and flow of digital information and the increasing areas of choice and decision making for facilitating life events will take some automated help.

Those aspects of our personalities that compel us to buy will prompt us to begin to off-load areas of our decision making and allow our digital assistants to make purchases on our behalf, ranging from the tactical to the strategic. This becomes possible when we armed digital assistants with user-defined, filtered preferences, demographic and psychographic information.

In essence, our need to sift through increasing amounts of information to make purchasing decisions will grow, and the digital assistant will be a top tool to perform the task. With the ability to connect, gather, sort and process information better than the individual, digital assistant decision making will start freeing us up for more strategic life events as it takes on assistant roles such as those of the travel agent, e.g. to track and book specific types of vacations; the financial advisor, e.g. to shop, recommend, and secure a mortgage refinance;  and the “wing man,” e.g. to help match your personality and interests with other people to find that “perfect someone.”

Businesses will need to take a fresh look at how to influence, market and sell to these key decision makers. Current techniques such as asking for social likes, buying pop ups ads or creating blast email campaigns will not win over a mobile digital assistant.

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