Is ‘Voice’ the New ‘Touch’ in E-commerce? Flipkart Acquires Liv.ai
Targeting 200 million more online shoppers, e-commerce retailer Flipkart has taken over the Artificial Intelligence (AI) based speech recognition startup Liv.ai. According to the terms of the acquisition, Liv’s twenty-member team will now belong to Flipkart’s ‘voice solutions’ team. With the help of Liv, the team will be able to scale end-to-end conversational shopping experiences for its users. Users might be able to avail voice recognition services from the Flipkart platform in some parts in the coming six to eight months.
Liv was co-founded in 2015 by Subodh Kumar, Kishore Mundra, and Sanjeev Kumar, all IIT-Kharagpur alumni. According to them, Liv is the only Indian company that has the ability to convert speech to text in not just English, but nine regional languages, which include Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, and Tamil.
“We work on speech recognition and surrounding technologies and these will be extremely valuable to any company that wants to target the Indian customer base of 100-200 million,” Subodh Kumar, CEO of Liv told ET. “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.”
As e-commerce companies are venturing out to tier-ll and tier-lll cities, vernacular languages are often a hindrance in reaching out to the 200-300 million non-English users in these cities. Flipkart, which was recently acquired in a deal-of-the-millennium transaction by retail giant Walmart, is clearly trying to tap the vernacular market across India, while introducing competition for rival e-commerce company Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa.
As per data from a nine-month-long research done by Google, consultants Bain & Company, and philanthropic venture fund Omidyar Network, 54 million users shied away from online transactions last year after they made their first buy. Apparently, this population is mostly represented by first-time internet users from lower income groups. These groups find vernacular languages more comfortable than English.
Market experts are predicting ‘voice’ to be the next revolution in online shopping after the tremendous success of ‘touch’. “The next wave of growth of internet users is coming from tier 2+ cities and 70% of these current internet users are vernacular language speakers with this proportion only increasing,” the ET quoted Flipkart’s CEO Kalyan Krishnamurthy. “Given the complexities in typing on vernacular keyboards, voice will become a preferred interface for new shoppers.”
While Google’s voice assistant has been wowing the world with its almost human responses and appointment-booking skills, India has had a struggle with its hundreds of dialects and regional languages. Liv’s speech-recognition application program interface could prove to be the game changer in this space. Currently, it is being used by 500 business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) developers. So far, it has been used for voice keyboards, voice assistants, and CRM, all in Indian languages.
They also specialize in converting text to speech in real time to get human like output, using advanced deep learning technology and building speech-enabled applications that talk. In addition, they make devices and applications voice interactive with their NLU capability, which can then be used to search for services/products, control devices, build responsive customer care, and more voice-based processes.