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Decoupled E-Commerce Platforms & Voice Interfaces: A Match Made in Retail Tech Heaven

Last updated: 21 Jun 2019

A couple of weeks ago we attended the Shoptalk conference in Las Vegas as a partner of Moltin. The event was a great opportunity to discuss the future of retail technology, connecting with attendees and industry experts alike on what was new and upcoming in the retail tech space. But the highlight for us was sharing our own work: A proof of concept voice user interface (VUI) that allows shoppers to make purchases directly through the Moltin platform.

It’s a project we were really excited to work on. We know from experience working on smarter interfaces with AI-powered interactions such as chatbots and VUIs over the past few years that consumers are clamoring for more flexible interaction options and the numbers around market trends back that experience up. In 2016, Google reported that 20% of search requests from mobile were performed using voice— that’s one-fifth of the total number of mobile search requests. and that was before the current surge in voice device popularity.

Businesses that want to stay in step with customer wants and needs will have to be ready with voice interaction capabilities in short order. Platforms that offer easy integration with voice are going to be crucial to the success of these initiatives, which is why we were so excited to take on this particular PoC.

Use voice to browse & buy

ShopTalk-HeroGraphic

In just one week, Myplanet developer Aleks Stefanovic and Myplanet designer Kazden Cattapan were able to create a functional shoe shopper CUI for Shoptalk. Excited to test out a new platform to extend our voice capabilities into, the team was admittedly a bit wary of the time-frame. A week to build out a complicated, multi-step, fully integrated shopping application using voice interaction is not a lot of time. Or at least that’s what they thought until they got started. In the end, they were blown away by the ease with which they were able to bring the concept to life.

A simple call and response style voice interaction is fairly straightforward to create using DialogFlow. You ask a question, it gives an answer, and that’s that. But extending it beyond that basic functionality? Expanding the parameters from basic y/n or right/wrong answers to more exploratory search functions and even one-touch purchasing? That becomes much more complicated.

Here’s how our “Shoe Finder” PoC works:

A user opens Shoe Finder using the Google Home Hub. From there, the VUI walks the user through a natural search flow—men’s or women’s shoes? what size? what style? etc.—and displays a carousel of images on the hub at the same time, narrowing the scope of options presented as the user filters the parameters of the search. The user then selects their shoe of choice and can either send it to mobile, enabling them to purchase directly from or be taken to the website for a closer look.

The flow, as you can tell, is significantly more complicated than asking a basic question and getting a singular answer. But most impressively for our team, it was done with relative ease.

“The advantage of a framework like Moltin is that it’s completely headless,” says Aleks. And for voice products like the PoC we created, that’s important because it means the entire end-to-end effort is surprisingly easy to spin up. There aren’t the same requirements around custom scripts and front-end efforts that you’d get with a standard coupled framework.

We’ve written before about the advantages of decoupled and headless CMS instances and a framework like Moltin takes that one step further with how easy to use it is.


One step ahead with easy integration

Of course, there are tradeoffs to having a super lightweight system like this one. Typically, it means there are fewer options for highly specific customization of features. But as Aleks notes, the advantages can outweigh the losses for a lot of use cases. “It’s simple. It knows what it’s good at and it does it really well,” he says.

Other options are massive and complicated: you have to get people on board, get people to learn it, possibly learn a custom scripting language that only applies to that platform, and in addition to all that there are usually a lot of front-end frameworks you’re forced to use. They have their advantages and there are sound reasons for choosing them, but it’s a much bigger endeavor that doesn’t always make sense.

A straightforward platform like Moltin is a really nice thing if you’re looking to set up a custom front-end and then easily link to it to do all the business logic. “You’d be able to set it up way faster with something like Moltin than most of the other options out there,” says Aleks.

And our designer, Kazden, found it equally frictionless. “He put all the data in manually, and it was easy and straightforward for him to do it. He managed to put in about 200 shoes in a day, by himself. Even that part of the framework is really good,” says Aleks.

For companies that don’t have the enterprise-level infrastructure, capacity, or ultimately needs required to spin up some of the more complicated platforms, this is an incredibly workable choice.

“Instead of a whole site, we did a CUI implementation right on top and it was super easy to integrate with Moltin. If I tried to do that with one of the big options you hear about, it would’ve taken me about a month to get that all working properly,” says Aleks.

Most companies looking to explore these new technology spaces don’t have the additional time or resources to devote to that kind of investment and overhead. This offers a quick and uncomplicated way to start exploring those spaces.

As consumer demand shifts and the technology continues to grow in personal use spaces, the need for more meaningful, functional voice interactions will increase. In just a few short years—some predictions say as soon as 2020—voice search will comprise 50% of all searches. The ability to meet consumer needs at that point of interaction will be what sets successful businesses of the future apart from their contemporaries. And easy-to-use, capable platforms like Moltin will lead the way.

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