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Let’s talk about secure voice commerce

Voice Control Hero Voice Control Hero Placehoder
28 NOVEMBER 2019

Using virtual assistants, like Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri, to make purchases with only your voice is projected to be an 80-billion-dollar-a-year business by 2023. Despite the hype, though, voice commerce has yet to make a real impact among users. One issue is the uncertainty around how to securely handle voice activated payments, an issue that is now being solved.

Voice activated search has been the source of a lot of hype ever since Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant, was launched almost ten years ago. In 2016, Gartner projected that 30 percent of all searches would be done without a screen by 2020. Other sources have put that number as high as 50 percent.

While these types of “bold predictions” are common with new technology there are reasons to take the “voice trend” seriously. Tech giants like Amazon, Google and Apple have all invested heavily in the technology and the number of people using voice activated devices is growing. Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa is installed in over 100 million devices, Apple has reported over 500 million Siri users and Google Assistant is now installed in over one billion devices. That’s a lot of consumers who now have the ability to search for products using only their voice, and many think that the next logical step is for consumers to also finalize their purchases using their voice.

Talking about transactions
Voice commerce, as it is often called, is another technology surrounded by a lot of hype. Juniper Research recently forecasted that voice commerce would be worth 80 billion dollars a year by 2023. But while everyone seems to agree on the potential of voice commerce, actual use has been slow to develop. In a 2018 article, The Information revealed that only about 2 percent of Amazon Alexa users had used their voice assistants to make a purchase, and that 90 percent of those customers had not made a second purchase.

Part of the explanation for this might be that the user experience still has to improve. In order for us to buy something without seeing it on a screen we have to be very confident that the voice assistant understands exactly what we are looking for. And for some items, like clothes, pure voice commerce might never be an option but will require that the voice activated device is combined with some sort of screen. For that reason, many people think that voice commerce will primarily be relevant for re-stocking everyday goods, like groceries, rather than buying big ticket items.

Speaking of trust
Another issue that voice commerce has to solve is trust. When it comes to new ways of paying, consumers tend to be guarded and early adoption can often be slow. Letting the voice assistant handle our money is the ultimate sign of trust and therefore it might take a while for us to be comfortable with paying using just our words.

This also raises the issue of how to make those payments secure. Could a slip of the tongue result in you making an unintended purchase and will the voice assistant be able to stop other people from making a voice purchase with your card details? By using voice recognition technology and adding a code that has to be spoken to finalize the purchase, tech companies hope to instill confidence in their users. But while that might be enough for some users it won’t be enough for the EU.

The EU’s new payment service directive, PSD2, requires all customers to carry out what is called a strong customer authentication when making any electronic payment. The problem for voice commerce is that voice recognition does not qualify as one of the three factors that count towards strong customer authentication. This means that European voice commerce will have to rely on other methods of authentication when making a purchase.

Solving the security dilemma

A possible solution to this issue comes from Bambora’s parent company Ingenico. This year, Ingenico Labs presented two different prototypes that deliver secure payments for voice commerce. The prototypes allow the customer to complete the order with their voice and then easily confirm the payment with their mobile, either through ultrasound or dynamic one-time passwords that authenticate who is making the purchase. That means the prototypes can deliver secure and PSD2-compliant payment solutions for voice commerce, without adding unnecessary complexity.

These prototypes are great examples of how the challenges around voice commerce can be overcome. Both users and regulators want to ensure that the convenience of voice commerce can be maintained while also making the payments secure. Trust is a key when it comes to all forms of payments and with the right payment solutions it will be easier to build that trust among the users who want to try the new technology. That may very well be the key to realizing the 80-billion-dollar potential in voice commerce.