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Why Voice Control is the Next Big Thing With Consumer Payments

Beth Kotz  //  November 9, 2017  //  4 min read

Voice control is the “it” thing in tech right now, with Amazon, Google, Apple, and other giants rolling out AI-infused gear that functions primarily through conversational voice interfaces. These voice-controlled smart hubs have made it easier than ever to control all manner of IoT products, and are influencing the mobile tech experience.

However, these hubs are capable of far more than simply serving as a control point for home automation tech. AI-powered voice control is also an emerging trend in mobile consumer payments, strengthened by key partnerships with major retailers, banks, and tech companies. So, are voice payments the next big thing, or is this trend more hype than substance? Let’s explore.

Early adopters

Early adopters

Photo by Ben Kolde on Unsplash

Voice-controlled smart hubs and its digital assistants have already made their way into many consumers’ homes, allowing people to play music, control their smart home systems, and set schedules and reminders all from simple audible commands. Now and in the near future, many of these smart hubs will also allow their users to make purchases from the comfort of their home. Some have already started to make big strides in voice payments.

While consumers likely won’t be turning to their smart hubs to make big-ticket purchases anytime soon, smaller, everyday purchases may be a different story. In particular, two key partnerships may give voice payments the jumpstart needed to succeed where so many other mobile payment platforms have failed. In partnering with Google, retail giant Walmart has recently brought its “Easy Reorder” service to the Google Home hub, allowing users to quickly and conveniently order hundreds of thousands of Walmart products – primarily small, everyday items – with simple voice commands.

Amazon Echo

Photo by Piotr Cichosz on Unsplash


Not to be outdone, Amazon and Microsoft recently announced that their own voice-controlled digital assistants—Alexa and Cortana, respectively—will be able to seamlessly communicate with one another. Among other things, this allows users of both assistants to access the vast Amazon online marketplace, using Alexa’s skills to place orders and make payments through voice. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has also floated the idea of integrating with Apple and Google smart hubs in the future, though no plans have been announced.

Smart hubs get smarter

Smart hubs get smarter

Photo by Jacob Ufkes on Unsplash

As useful as voice-controlled payments already are, the next generation of AI digital assistants will likely represent a massive step forward. Companies are already working on far more sophisticated AI, with the goal of making voice controls more like natural conversations than the sometimes clunky, scripted affairs they are currently.

These AI platforms will be much better at anticipating user preferences and needs, and will also present better opportunities for both online and brick-and-mortar retailers to engage with the voice payment process. In the near future, these platforms will be able to function much like in-store assistants or personal shoppers, making recommendations, providing feedback and handling purchases and payments in a virtually frictionless manner.

The growing voice payment ecosystem

If voice-controlled payments are to succeed, it will require a broad and diverse ecosystem capable of handling all of a consumer’s needs. This ecosystem is already beginning to expand, as many mobile payment platforms have been quick to enter the voice market.

Through the Apple Pay Cash platform, Apple users will be able to send money and make peer-to-peer payments with voice through platforms like Venmo, PayPal, and Square Cash, with similar functionality also available through Alexa and Google Assistant. PayPal’s entry into the voice payment space is particularly significant in view of the more than six billion transactions it processes each year.

Voice-controlled banking

Banking

Photo by Etienne Martin on Unsplash

While voice shopping has drawn much of the attention, voice-control has also attracted the attention of major banks. British banking giant Barclays has already integrated voice recognition into its biometric security measures, and account holders can also use a conversational voice interface to conduct their business from within the bank’s mobile app. Wells Fargo and other prominent banks have followed suit, providing a range of voice controls from within their apps.

Because these are official apps from the banks themselves, this offers the added bonus of assuaging some of the privacy and security concerns that come with using third-party platforms.

Hurdles ahead

Though voice control appears poised to become a major player in the mobile payment space, it still faces significant hurdles compared to other payment systems. Security and privacy remain serious concerns for many consumers, particularly when compared with fingerprints and other biometric payment platforms. Many consumers also remain skeptical that voice payments will offer significant benefits over other mobile payment options, though that perception may be changing in light of new partnerships and the ever-expanding capability of voice. Similarly, there remain several technical hurdles that must be overcome before the full power of conversational AI payments is realized.

Consumers have more payment options than ever before, and voice control will need to continue improving in both sophistication and capability before it enjoys widespread adoption. Nonetheless, the technology clearly has the potential to revolutionize the way consumers shop, pay and send money in an increasingly mobile and digital world, making it more convenient for consumers and removing many of the friction points associated with traditional payment methods.

About Beth Kotz

Beth Kotz is a freelance writer and contributor for numerous home, technology, and personal finance blogs. She graduated with BA in Communications and Media from DePaul University in Chicago, IL, where she continues to live and work.
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