Voice-based applications for E-commerce

Ethics in retail

Our partner Intermarché is one of the biggest food retailers in France, Belgium, Poland and Portugal. Intermarché is an ethics-centered retailer that aims to promote ethical values at all levels of the company from the production of goods to the customers’ basket through the whole supply chain and commercialisation processes.

Nowadays customers are becoming more and more aware of such value proposition. In fact, they are not only looking for good quality/price ratios to fill in their baskets: they are also becoming more and more conscious, looking to tick a plethora of checkboxes in order to choose their favorite products and retailers. For example, the origin of goods, the production process, the environmental impact, the transportation duration and even the work conditions of the employees are important parameters that are taken into consideration by customers.

Intermarché has been a pioneer in the field of ethics-oriented retail and during the past few years, a bunch of concrete actions have been performed in order to put ethics at the center of its strategy. For example, in order to generate more revenues for farmers and reduce food waste, Intermarché proposes to sell “ugly” fruits/vegetables that are normally thrown away because they do not fulfil the quality requirements usually practised by food retailers across Europe [article]. By “quality requirements”, we mean that the fruits/vegetables do not have a standard shape and/or size despite them being totally edible. This initiative has a huge impact in terms of revenues for fruit and vegetable producers but also for consumers who are very kind to embrace such tangible societal and environmental actions.

The ethics-oriented attitude was largely adopted for the management of data emanating from customers through various channels such as orders history, call centers, loyalty cards, social media and especially drive-thru where sensitive data are stored and processed. Netfective Technology has been working with Intermarché to run its Drive-thru platform. The company has more than 15 years of experience in designing, implementing and scaling up the whole e-commerce solution with a high focus on security and privacy. This includes the management of the entire process including users, products, stores, order preparation, etc. The data volume generated by the drive-thru platform has exploded in the 5 last years. This is mainly explained by the fact that the drive-thru has been largely adopted by consumers looking for fast and user-friendly ways to shop. Thousands of transactions are processed every day for around 1,200 physical stores referencing more than 12,000 products each with more than 15 million different prices.

Customer vs. User

In the last few years, an important shift has been observed in the interaction between internet users and websites. In fact, the internet user is no more a consumer who “swallows” the contents made available by a few IT experts. The user is an effective actor who can create and share added-value contents. This switch has initially been made possible thanks to the emergence of Internet 2.0 that brought the technological solutions to build blogs, comment posts, share videos, etc. This bi-directional interaction has become in a few years the normal way users interact with contents. Moreover, the user is encouraged to do so with the flagrant ascension of social media where the user becomes the central actor producing, consuming, liking, disliking, sharing, etc., various types of contents (going from usual text articles to live videos). These technological advances have driven a huge cultural disruption that has affected multiple businesses across industries from healthcare to education and retail. In fact, the huge volume of generated data is a mine of information allowing brands to better understand their customers (i.e., user profiling). Digital technologies have not only imagined social networks whose power can undermine individuals and states, but they have also completely changed the relationship between consumers and brands. The crowd of people connected to the digital world is now a force that can both profoundly influence a brand’s identity and often develop innovations of unsuspected potential. The opportunities allowed by the data will generally be summarised as follows:

  • Personalisation and individual treatment, once reserved for a few universes such as finance or luxury, are now accessible to the mass.
  • The reunification of the customer journey is now at hand; it is a technological issue, but also an organisational one: it is important to promote cross-disciplinary trades and to avoid organisational silos and data silos.
  • There is a wide range of data usage: they can be used for trend detection, short- or long-term forecast, and they can detect weak and invisible signals.

All these practices, breaking with the traditional user-experience, only demonstrate the importance of such interaction and, in a way, the companies that will become central players in the 21st century will be technological, social and interactional platforms. The challenge is to master new forms of interaction with the consumer, which in many ways should be called “user”. This interaction should be of a high quality otherwise it might lead to a bad user experience generating frustration and therefore public (online) negative feedback. This is true not only for companies but also for public administrations.

Vocal interaction

The nature of interaction is also rapidly evolving in order to satisfy users as quickly as possible, e.g., answering a request, helping in decision-making, giving recommendations, personalising promotional offers, etc. For the last two years, under the mobile industry impulsion, a very old “natural” interaction channel has emerged: the voice. Nowadays it is common to talk to the smartphone in order to take notes, launch applications, make calls, etc. Almost all what can be done by touching the smartphone screen is now possible just by vocal orders. Such features are possible thanks to the recent mobile operating systems that offer such capabilities on the one side and to the absence of cultural barriers regarding talking to a smartphone on the other side. This vocal interaction is penetrating some online services but is still very rare.

Talking is, with no doubt, the most natural way to address multilingual issues and allow European citizens to access content and engage in communication activities without the language barrier. For instance, it is not possible to build online services manually translated in all European languages (including local and regional ones!). Nonetheless, voice-enabled capabilities will allow end-users to “talk” to the services, in various languages and get rapid answers while releasing them from the burden of looking for information in a foreign language.

Netfective Technology is working to add such voice-based features to the Drive-Thru platform. The COMPRISE project will propose a new approach relying on a local processing of the voice in such a way that privacy will be increased. COMPRISE will allow us to provide voice-enabled capabilities to our customers while guaranteeing a high degree of privacy and personal data protection on the one hand and offering an added-value user-centric experience on the other hand. This privacy-aware approach totally fits our partner’s ethical priorities. Finally, yet importantly, E-commerce is a top priority for the European Commission especially in order to prevent geo-blocking. A barrier to be tackled by COMPRISE.

Written by:

Dr. Youssef RIDENE

Netfective Technology


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