Siri & the iPhone 4S: Strategies for Retailers

By Steven Kramer,

Sporting a physical design identical to the iPhone 4 and a total lack of expected features, initial reactions to the iPhone 4S were that it hardly seemed capable of living up to Apple’s claim as “the most amazing iPhone yet.”

But it quickly became apparent that there was more to the 4S than met the eye. Buried beneath a handful of mundane upgrades was Siri, a potential game-changer for both the mobile and retail marketplaces.

Billed as a personal assistant for iOS, Siri may be the most important development in consumer computing since the desktop metaphor and the mouse. It might even be the killer app mobile commerce evangelists have been waiting for and a shopping experience, paradigm-shifter for retailers.

What is Siri?
Siri is a speech-recognition application that features speech input and output capabilities, allowing 4S users to speak into their iPhones and receive a verbal response from their device.

But unlike other voice-recognition technologies, Siri can access a broad range of applications and information. Rather than just responding to simple commands, Siri translates the user’s voice input into meaningful digital actions, playing the role of an electronic assistant that is wired to the user’s profile settings, selected accounts and other data sources.

As the technology advances, consumer uses for Siri will likely be substantial. Suppose you’re running late after a long day at the office. On the way home, you can verbally communicate your to-do list to Siri. In the mood for pizza? Siri will identify area pizzerias, place your order and pay for it using your virtual wallet. If you tell Siri you want it delivered, the Domino’s guy could be waiting for you when you pull in the driveway.

Or maybe you forgot to order flowers for Valentine’s Day. No problem – just have Siri contact When Siri asks what you are looking for, you tell her a dozen red roses for Valentine’s Day. After Siri gives you options and pricing information, you authorize a purchase and have Siri provide with your wife’s work address, culled directly from your contact list.

So why is Siri significant? The overhead of performing a transaction via traditional methods isn’t frictionless – it involves the price of your time during the buying process. It means opening your mobile browser, conducting a Google search, identifying what you are looking for, and finally, locating the number you want to contact. It means navigating a web page or a series of touch-tone menus to find the product or person you need to speak with. It means entering your card numbers or reading them off to a customer service representative.

Siri streamlines the search and buying process through voice commands that give you an immediate answer, eliminating steps needed to perform a transaction and providing shoppers with their own virtual assistant to represent their interests and desires to a retailer.

Siri Strategies for Retailers
At this point, Siri is limited to iPhone 4S users. Owners of previous iPhone versions and other mobile device brands do not have access to Siri technology. But make no mistake: other mobile operating system providers are certain to be hard at work creating an alternative.

Although this may seem further out on the horizon, there are strategies that will give retailers an edge when Siri, or similar technology, makes its way into the hands of a larger share of smartphone users.

So what capabilities should retailers already have in place when this new technology creates yet another customer touch point in an already complex multichannel shopping experience?

  • Product Content Management. No matter how you cut it, much of Siri’s power is and will be based on search capabilities and easy access to rich product information. For example, when a user tells Siri he needs a new pair of running shoes, Siri’s response will be influenced by the SERP rankings of running shoe provider websites. To prepare for the advent of the Siri age, retailers should implement a product content management platform that can seamlessly search the brand’s database for the product a customer is interested in purchasing.
  • Virtual Payment Options. Although it may take time, brands will eventually receive the majority of its online and mobile payments via virtual wallet applications. For now, retailers should consider offering secure and encrypted customer accounts that allow consumers – and Siri – to make hassle-free purchases. This eliminates the need for consumers to provide their credit card numbers and gift cards for every transaction.
  • Inventory Visibility. In some cases, Siri directs users to mobile retailers who are in close proximity to their present location. Let’s say a 4S owner experiences a diaper emergency. Siri will identify local stores that are closest to the user’s location and search their inventories to see if the brand of diapers the user prefers is available. So like any other multichannel retailing strategy, Siri will demand chain-wide inventory visibility.
  • Order Management. For some smartphone users, Siri could ultimately become the universal customer service representative. For example, shoppers could ask Siri to contact a retailer to determine shipment status, receive product instructions, initiate a return, etc. Moreover, since Siri would also be placing orders for the customer that will be fulfilled in another channel, order management is a pre-requisite and the bedrock of any multichannel retailing strategy. 

What makes Siri groundbreaking as a new customer touch point for retailers is that it removes friction form the shopping experience and truly enables consumers to shop from anywhere, anytime. In other words, Siri combines your personal objectives with your personal information to perform the legwork that is normally involved with a transaction. 

Retailers would be wise to consider Siri, and the inevitable competitors that are sure to follow, as another future touch point retailers will need to account for in their multichannel strategy. Now is the time to assess the gaps in their capabilities to accommodate this technology. Otherwise, you’ll be a follower rather than a leader in a retailing landscape where consumers reward convenience, experience and innovation.

Steven Kramer is the president of North America at hybris, a multichannel commerce software vendor. He can be reached at

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