by Craig Hannabus (@crayg) I recently had a look at The Verge’s top 100 gadgets of the previous decade. No. 2 on the list is the Amazon Echo, a very Star Trekkie ‘smart’, internet-enabled speaker that acts as a digital assistant and is perfect for anyone wanting a ‘smart home’, doing everything from controlling lights and enabling your alarm system to answering any of your pop-culture questions. One of its more interesting features is voice commerce.

Running low on your favourite drink? Just ask your Echo to order you some more — no mouse, no keyboard, no fuss.

Depending on who you talk to, voice commerce is either the next big thing or a lacklustre gimmick with no real value. Those hailing it as a godsend are talking about the simplicity of it, the naturalness of asking for something as opposed to typing. Voice commerce is also easier than ever to set up (for our international friends), with devices being fairly cheap.


But there are some criticisms of the tech. While it makes sense for general shopping, most users will revert to ecommerce or in-store for those big-ticket purchases. There seems to be some apprehension towards saying “get me the big TV” and hoping for the best. The adoption rate also hasn’t been as vigorous as expected. Some experts attribute this to the ‘newness’ of the tech and say that adoption will grow once people understand the new paradigm (which contradicts the whole ‘naturalness’ argument).

South Africa has some bigger issues to deal with when it comes to voice-commerce adoption.

First, we’re not that big on ecommerce. There are several issues compounding this. According to a recent research report, 71% of the respondents said that they’d abandoned their cart, either because of a payment gateway failure or because a question they’d wasn’t answered. That’s huge. It boils down to the fact that, if ecommerce sites tightened up their customer experience (CX), they could grow their business by three times. Experiences like these leave a bad taste in the consumer’s mouth. A distrust of the security provided by financial institutions in the online space also isn’t helping matters.

Better experiences

Clearly there’s some work to be done around building better experiences for the consumer, both within the shopping and banking experience.

Secondly, there’s limited support for accent recognition. Forrester recently conducted a test across the four major voice assistants (Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple). On average, of the 180 questions asked, the devices failed to answer a whopping 64%. In some cases, the tester was redirected to a browser but, in others, the device failed to understand the question. Imagine the frustration a user speaking with a regional English accent or even in their native language might experience? Right now, Alexa caters for a handful of regional accents but many owners are finding that they have to drop their accents to speak to their devices. This will definitely not fly in the South African market.

Lastly, our biggest ecommerce platform doesn’t support it. Takealot has no voice-commerce offering and that’s telling. With Takealot having the biggest market share as far as ecommerce is concerned, it seems that, if voice were viable, there’d be some mention of it somewhere on its site or in its blog. When I reached out to them, the response was a firm “maybe”.

Worth adopting

Is SA ready for voice commerce? No. Is voice commerce ready for SA? No. Does SA need to be ready for voice commerce? Yes, but not necessarily for the sake of commanding a smart speaker to order more peanuts using your favourite SA accent. It’s more because we have some inherent problems with our customer experience across our current ecommerce platforms that need resolving. Maybe, by the time we sort those out, voice commerce will be something worth adopting.

See also


Craig HannabusCurrently the strategic director at Rogerwilco, Craig Hannabus (@crayg) has spent his adult life in the tech and marketing industry, exploring both the development and the content creation aspects. He began as a developer, writing software to integrate cell phones with GPS systems, thus building one of South Africa’s first vehicle tracking systems. Through the years, he’s developed a strong interest in exploring the world of customer experience and has worked on brands including Standard Bank, Nedbank, General Motors, Nestle, and Caxton.

“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.

Sign up now for the MarkLives newsletter, including headlines, emailed every Monday, Wednesday and Friday!

Online CPD Courses Psychology Online CPD Courses Marketing analytics software Marketing analytics software for small business Business management software Business accounting software Gearbox repair company Makeup artist