BENGLARU: Flipkart has spent a reported $40m to acquire Liv.AI, an AI-led speech recognition start-up, in a move expected to boost the e-commerce player’s appeal with the next wave of India’s internet users and online shoppers.

A particular attraction for Flipkart is the software that converts speech to text in nine local languages, a facility that Liv.AI’s chief executive said “will be extremely valuable to any company that wants to target the Indian customer base of 100-200 million.

“Voice is a much better and effortless interface and it will increase the buying propensity and their intention to buy and ease of use will increase on an e-commerce platform,” he added in remarks reported by the Economic Times.

The point was reinforced by Flipkart’s CEO Kalyan Krishnamurthy, who pointed out that growth in internet users is coming from lower tier cities “and 70% of these current internet users are vernacular language speakers with this proportion only increasing.

“Given the complexities in typing on vernacular keyboards, voice will become a preferred interface for new shoppers,” he said.

Rival Amazon is already well advanced in voice technology and India was the fourth market where it launched its Echo voice-activated devices and virtual assistant Alexa. But its strength remains in English and Alexa is still being trained in India’s regional languages, the Business Standard reported.

Aside from any typing difficulties that apply to other languages, “voice breaks through the literacy barrier, so that is the potential we want to tap,” explained Puneesh Kumar, heads of Alexa Experiences and Devices at Amazon India.

But voice alone will not be enough to overcome all of the challenges facing e-commerce in India. A recent report from Bain & Company reported that 50 million internet users had shopped once and not returned.

Language is one issue, but the study also pointed to other factors, including that fact that many new users are unfamiliar with modern retail and don’t recognise the shopping cart icon, while the lack of a touch and feel experience alienates some and then there is the perennial problem of trust.

“Companies need to address consumer concerns on grievance redressal and drive a change in customer perception,” according to Arpan Sheth, partner, Bain & Company.

“Companies will need to build a relevant offering and improve the shopping experience across touchpoints,” he added, “including imagery and symbols on websites that makes the experience more intuitive.”

Sourced from Economic Times, Business Standard; additional content by WARC staff