How Visually-Oriented Retailers Like Wayfair And Nike Are Using Voice Activation To Connect With Consumers

Is someone going to buy a lamp or a sneaker using a voice assistant? Not today, says Wayfair's Jessica Jacobs and Nike's Ron Faris. But for SEO and appointment shopping, voice is becoming key.

As voice search and the use of smart devices becomes more mainstream, fashion retailers from Macy’s to Nike and Wayfair are seeking ways to exploit sound to drive sales and consumer engagement.

Of course, when it comes to fashion and home décor, it’s hard to convey the look and feel of those products through a voice activated smart home device. But retailers are finding ways to adapt.

In one example, Macy’s Jill Ramsey told the audience at last week’s MMA Impact conference that the department store brand was already experimenting with audio through Amazon Alexa “skills” that allow Echo owners to ask “What Should I Wear Today?” Still, she’s looking forward to seeing a marriage between sound and screen take off to make artificial intelligence-powered assistants more applicable to a wider range of retail use cases.

In a conversation about the state of retail and tech at the Advertising Club of New York’s The Verticals panel series, Jessica Jacobs, director of Marketing, Wayfair, and Ron Faris, GM of Nike’s s23NYC Digital Studio and Global GM, of Nike’s SNKRS app, told Sarah Martinez, Oath’s VP, Industry Lead Retail & QSR, that the use of voice activation is expanding and complementing their existing interactive efforts to promote discovery among shoppers.

“One very tactical thing that Wayfair has done is adjusting our SEO to make sure we’re incorporated in voice searches,” Jacobs said. “We’ve adjusted our ability to capture how one searches for a good sofa by curating it in the case of whether they’re talking to Alexa or talking into their phone, versus the more traditional search methods.

“So I’d say the most immediate shift that we have taken into account is by changing our SEO strategy to take that into account,” Jacobs added. “Does anyone want to order a new lamp from Wayfair over a Alexa device or a Google device? Who knows? Maybe. But at least that’s not where we see things at the moment.”

“In addition to SEO, Nike’s way of looking at Alexa and voice platforms for appointment-making,” Faris responded. “In the sense that, we’re using it for our customers to know what specific times of a product drops. It could alert a consumer to line up at 10:00 A.M. on a Saturday, for example. It’s a very important mobile interaction.

“We’re also looking at chat platforms for that to send automated messages like that as well,” Faris added. “It’s all in the experimental phase, but it’s important for us to look to anything that can help get to address a prospective lead. And voice is actually something that really can help with that connection.”

Sarah Martinez, Oath’s VP, Industry Lead Retail & QSR, moderates the Ad Club of NY’s Verticals series on retail with Ron Faris, GM of Nike’s s23NYC Digital Studio and Global GM, of Nike’s SNKRS app, and Jessica Jacobs, director of Marketing, Wayfair.

The Virtual Showroom

Most of the conversation among the panelists focused on the uses of augmented reality and virtual reality as a way of bridging the gap between online and offline marketing.

In September, Wayfair released an AR-powered feature within its shopping app, allowing users to “View in Room 3D” to see how home furnishings and décor look at set spots in their homes before they buy without having to physically measure their space or move things around.

“We have tens of thousands of our products digitally rendered into a 3D model which can be placed in your room on now an Android and an iOS device through AR/VR,” Jacobs said. “I’m not sure a ton of people are shopping on an Oculus currently, but for when that does occur five years from now, we’ll be ready.”

Wayfair customers who use the 3D room feature in app are “significantly more likely to convert,” Jacobs added.

“AR really punches above it’s weight, in the sense that it’s actually not that hard to build, but the emotional impact it has on the consumer and their way about having that conversion at a higher rate really is impactful,” Faris said. “A lot of AR that’s out there is still very kitschy and glitchy. But we found a way to use it as a kind of an unlock mechanism for a shoe in very unexpected places.”

Faris pointed to a four-week analysis Nike did to see how SNKRS app users engaged with the AR feature versus those who didn’t. Those who did end up staying and entering the 30 percent more interest in buying shoes, an increased demand 150 percent.

The Role Of Location Data

Nike’s use of AR/VR is also being extended through managing location data.

About nine months ago, the SNKRS app launched a feature called Stash, which Faris described as “kind of our version of Pokemon Go,” where it can send users to places like a park to virtually look for a pair of sneakers — and then make a purchase at these “virtual pop-up shops.”

“It’s our way of having the community come together in certain places to celebrate purchasing and transacting in a unique way,” Faris said. “We love location data — not in a creepy way, of course! — but we love the idea of, frankly, of making the shopping less solitary. We’re learning a lot about where people are. It allows us to see where the engagement in the app is. It also allows for moving further upstream in the chain and can impact how we design footwear, eveb making footwear based on where those locations are.

“It offers a twist on hyperlocal to be able to target those people,” Faris continued. “Our goal now is to find the right media moments to be able to share what’s happening in pockets of hyperlocal communities.”

For Wayfair, location analytics is all about making delivery faster and more efficient, as well as helping the brand decide its own physical pop-up projects and plans, Jacobs said.

“In terms of the delivery piece, this is sort of a little more simplistic, but it’s one of these things that’s like why has no one ever thought of this before?” Jacobs said. “We have a Lyft-like map for shoppers’ delivery tracking. Three stops before your delivery is going to arrive, the app is enabled so you can actually see the order come to your house. You can say, ‘Oh, do I have time to run out in five minutes to go drop my kids to the park?’ or pick something up from the store. It alleviates that anxiety of the noon to 6:00 p.m. window the cable guy’s going to show up. Everyone’s been in that situation. Solving it with location has been simple and impactful.”

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David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.