Voice command technology is seen as the Next Big Thing. According to 2016 predictions by the consultancy, Gartner, about 30% of all searches will be done without a screen by 2020. When we want to know, or to get, something, we’ll ask for it orally, using a ‘bot’ or an ‘assistant’ like Amazon’s Echo/Alexa, Google Home or Apple’s Siri Homepod, or by speaking to our smartphones.
“What’s the weather going to be like tomorrow?”
“How did my football team do last night?”
“Get me some more beer.” (Or Merlot, of course.)
A more recent report by another company, OC&C Strategy Consultants, suggests that US sales through bots will rise from $2bn in 2017 to $40bn by 2022. An illustration of the impact the bots are already having can be seen in the growing number of YouTube clips revealing how parrots have used Alexa to place online orders with Amazon.
Once we have got used to asking Alexa to read us a recipe to save us having to reach for a book, we may ask Amazon’s Echo Look ‘fashion camera’ to take a picture and, a minute later, with the help of ‘machine learning algorithms — but also human fashion experts’ make a judgment of the ‘fit, color, styling and current trends’ of the clothes we are wearing. If it doesn’t think your yellow shirt goes with your bloodshot, morning-after eyes, it will recommend something else you have shown it on a previous occasion. And may quite likely show you some other garments that you can buy through Amazon.
I think that the move away from keyboard to voice may raise some interesting issues for the wine industry. The belief that consumers avoid wines with unpronounceable names goes back to the 1920s or beyond. More recently in 2014, an international team of researchers, published a paper called The Effect of Social Interaction on Economic Transactions: Evidence from Changes in Two Retail Formats in which, after looking at over a million transactions, they found that when Sweden’s Systembolaget monopoly introduced self service, sales of the hardest to pronounce products rose by 8.4%. As one of the authors, Ryan McDevitt of Duke University's Fuqua School of Business said, “If you don't talk to anyone, it changes your behaviour”.
Gewürztraminer is a famous victim of this phenomenon, but so too, nowadays, is Viognier. Now, it might well be that the fear of getting a wine name ‘wrong’ in front of a sommelier or wine shop manager could disappear when talking to a machine. Assuming of course that the bots are taught to recognise that people asking for Riceling and Reesling actually want the same thing. But I’m not so sure. Tricky and unfamiliar names don’t tend to do well, even in supermarkets where bottles can be picked up from the shelf without anyone having to move their lips.
My guess is that most of the wine industry will take little or no notice of this kind of trend, but maybe it should. Before, for example, choosing as French producers did in 2010, a name like Grignan-Les Adhemar as a replacement for the marginally more easy-to-pronounce Coteaux du Tricastin appellation.