TD Ameritrade tests stock buying through Alexa

TD Ameritrade customers can now buy stocks using Amazon Alexa devices.

It’s treating the feature release like an experiment. By adding voice trading, TD Ameritrade is adding another way customers can interact with the business, and learning from the experience in the process. It’s moving in the same direction as consumer-facing retailers, adding voice to a growing menu of communication and transaction platforms. Customers can already trade through text, tweet, Facebook Messenger and through a mobile app — voice just completes the circle in the toolbox available to customers.

“It’s another quiver in our omnichannel strategy,” said Sunayna Tuteja, head of digital strategy, experience and innovation at TD Ameritrade. “I’m a big believer that innovation doesn’t happen in a lab; you need to put a product or experience into the wild. Based on customer feedback, we’ll keep perfecting it.”

The voice-trading feature, which was released Tuesday, adds to the capabilities of its 2-year-old Alexa skill that offered stock quotes and market updates. Customers can still get real-time market updates and news without logging in with their credentials, but logged-in customers will get curated content based on their preferences and purchase history.

TD Ameritrade, like other consumer-facing companies, faces the tough challenge of trying to grow adoption rates among customers. According to an August 2018 report from The Information, only 2 percent of people with devices that use Amazon’s Alexa intelligent assistant made a purchase with it, and of that number, 90 percent didn’t try it again.

But low voice commerce adoption is no reason not to invest in it, said Tuteja. Any lessons the company can learn ahead of a ramp-up in user adoption of voice platforms is a win. At this early stage, the company wants to understand how customers interact with voice, especially given that customers are still figuring out how it fits within the series of steps that form the user experience. With time, artificial intelligence and machine-learning technology can help fill in the gaps and open up new opportunities for customers to use voice as a channel, she said.

“I remember five or six years ago, a mobile app was seen as a novelty, a nice to have, until the iPhone 5 and 6 came out — then it became a necessity you couldn’t live without,” she said. “The confluence of AI and machine learning and the pervasiveness of smart speakers is creating an area of voice commerce where ‘I want to be able to conduct commerce with dialogue and don’t need to have a phone near me.'”

Other financial services companies are also dabbling in voice, including Capital One, USAA and Charles Schwab, but they still face ongoing implementation issues, partly due to the freshness of the technology and a slow rate of user uptake. For now, voice as a channel is an add-on to an existing menu of communication and transaction options afforded to the consumer, much in the same way big-box retailers are trying to offer multiple options of meeting the customer in the most convenient way.

“The customer is going to interact with us on their terms; it’s imperative for us as a company to offer us great experiences via store, mobile, online,”  Matt Jones, senior director of online and mobile product at Home Depot, recently told Digiday. “It’s not just right product, right price, in stock —  it’s the whole end-to-end experience that the customer has with the brand.”

For now, voice is more useful as a way to learn more about products, an early-funnel research tool that customers can use prior to making the purchase through the web or a mobile device, said Adam Silverman, svp of marketing at Theatro, a company that develops voice-based business-to-business applications.

“It’s more useful as a discovery tool than completing the trade,” Silverman said. “The information can be presented contextually when I’m more likely going to do the trade on a smartphone or desktop. It’s very similar to the shopping experience, and for now, it’s the top of the funnel.”

Despite the challenge in building consumer adoption, the trading use case could be compelling, particularly for those who want to make quick decisions based on market movements, said Chuck Fletcher, chief technology officer of digital agency Barbarian. While user adoption will increase with tech enhancements, in deploying voice-activated commerce tools, companies still need to carefully consider which use cases have staying power, he added.

“The more people interact with voice experiences, the more comfortable they’ll get, but I think there’s still the question of what kind of commerce makes sense for voice,” Fletcher said. “With Amazon [Alexa], you think if you would order a common item like toilet paper or towels, there shouldn’t be an issue, but sometimes customers want to see [the product]. Humans are very visual, and we might have to see it as a re-affirmation before hitting the buy button.”

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