Voice-Based E-Commerce Looms Large

Well before the end of this year, voice-based Internet access stands to revolutionize the way business is done over the Internet, trigger the growth of a new class of mega-billion dollar companies, and dim the potential for WAP-based handheld wireless devices.

At the core of these new services are voice recognition and text-to-speech technologies that have quietly been maturing during the past decade. Web surfers will be able to speak the name of the Web site or service they want to access, and the system will recognize the command and respond with spoken words.

The interaction model will work for all types of simple services, such as placing a stock trade, reserving tickets for local movies, buying a book or finding directions. However, more complex e-commerce transactions, such as those that depend upon graphics or extensive customer shopping, would require PC access.

Finding Deals Locally

The new voice services could also serve as a bridge between consumers and local merchants. Shoppers who need to find specific products on a same-day basis will be able to access a Web site that has a database of hundreds of thousands of products available at local stores.

By using voice commands, consumers could then search the database by product name and locate the merchant with the most competitive prices.

Impulse Buying Via Radio

The services, furthermore, will also be designed to generate impulse buying from radio advertising in much the same way that interactive digital television systems are now being designed to allow impulse purchasing from television ads.

“Imagine hearing that your favorite musician will soon be playing in your town,” said Joe Loll, senior director of marketing for Vocal Point, Inc. “You can then buy tickets immediately using just your voice.”

Online Digital Wallet

According to Loll, many users will use PCs to establish digital wallets online, making voice-based e-commerce transactions as simple to conduct as possible.

Security features are expected to include

  • call recognition, so that calls have to be placed from specific mobile devices;
  • voice recognition, so that authorizations have to match a specific voice;
  • shipping to a set address that cannot be changed by voice.

The Coming Voice Portals

Several firms are planning their own voice-based portals, including InternetSpeech.com, BeVocal.com, Tellme.com and Talk2.com.

Microsoft is also looking closely at the emerging industry. Last fall, the software giant acquired voice recognition firm Entropic, Inc. with the intention of embedding voice recognition in numerous products.

How Soon?

Many of these firms will be conducting demonstrations of their planned services next week at Spring Internet World 2000 in Los Angeles. The initial focus will be primarily on information access.

E-commerce services will follow in short order, with initial e-commerce applications available this year. By early 2001, if not sooner, there should be a flood of voice-based e-commerce announcements from e-tailers.

By the middle of 2001, local-based product locating services will likely be announced by mall operators across the United States as a strategy to bring business to their brick-and-mortar tenants.

What About WAP?

The advent of voice-based services is an ominous development for the the companies that have been developing the WAP protocol to allow Internet browsing from small handheld devices.

While the new services are not expected to make WAP obsolete, its impact will most likely be blunted.

“There is no question,” said Loll, “that our service will do the same thing that can be done by a WAP terminal for many applications.”

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