Amazon, Virgin Trains and the rise of voice commerce

Virgin Trains is currently allowing customers to book tickets using voice commerce capabilities on Amazon’s Alexa. Natasha Toothill, head of enterprise at Amazon Pay, sees it as a landmark moment in the advent of a new era for retailers and consumer-facing brands.

Virgin Trains became the first train company to partner with Amazon Pay and Alexa, in May, giving its customers a chance to book selected tickets and check train times by speaking to their Alexa-enabled device, be it Amazon Echo or Dot.

By adding an Alexa skill, Virgin Trains allows consumers to book tickets or find information related to travel between London’s Kings Cross, Doncaster, York, Darlington, Newcastle and Edinburgh – the East Coast Main Line. Once enabled in the Alexa app and linked with a consumer’s Amazon Pay account, the service will react to the command “Alexa, open Virgin Trains” before specific journey details can be requested.

Once the voice commerce payment has been completed, a ticket is sent in email format to the address attached to the user’s Amazon account. The technology is set up to answer other potential passenger questions related to children and animals travelling on Virgin Trains.

There has been no comment on how Virgin Trains will use the technology once it hands over control of the East Coast Main Line franchise to the UK government’s Department for Transport on 24 June following the failure of the Virgin-Stagecoach joint-venture franchise, but they will have at least had two months of testing its capability on a busy travel route.

Natasha Toothill, head of enterprise at Amazon Pay, spoke at the Future Stores Europe just a few days after the Virgin Trains partnership launch, saying the business world is on the cusp of something big thanks to this the type of voice commerce technology provided by the likes of her company, Google and others.

She said the reason voice-enabled technology and payments has the potential for significant growth is because “it’s the most natural way of communicating” – when you compare it to other forms of customer-business interaction such as email, instant messaging et al.

Toothill added that it supports a world where “instant gratification is a trend” and consumers are increasingly looking to purchase goods on the go in a convenient manner, and she suggested the transaction capability via devices like Alexa will lead to “real scale” when it comes to voice commerce.

“We’re at the start of a real change when it comes to voice commerce – this is absolutely massive, life-changing stuff,” she argued.

Toothill also revealed a list of Amazon Pay retail partner brands to date, which includes All Saints, Lovehoney, Moss Bros, Papa Johns, and TM Lewin. Voice commerce capability here currently relies on an old-fashioned phone call or in-store face-to-face transaction, but who knows where voice-enabled technology will take brands like these in the coming years?

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