Bazaarvoice, which operates a network for sharing and analyzing consumer-generated content, such as product reviews and ratings, across retail websites, has acquired AddStructure, a start-up that enables voice-based search and related applications, in a deal that reflects how consumers increasingly are using voice to drive product search and discovery, according to a press release.
AddStructure was one of the first start-ups ever to participate in the Target + Techstars Retail Accelerator program, under which a handful of start-ups earn an investment from and opportunity to be mentored by business veterans. Its machine learning and natural language processing technology has been used by Target and Best Buy, among others.
The acquisition comes less than a month after Bazaarvoice was acquired by Marlin Equity Partners in a $521 million deal that ended Bazaarvoice's five-year run as a public company, but gave the company a better ability "to pursue its strategic vision," according to an Austin American-Statesman report.
This deal represents a convergence of two rapidly evolving technology trends in retail — the rising influence of user-generated content on purchasing, and the expanding availability of voice search capabilities through virtual assistants and similar technology
For example, about 90% of consumers surveyed by TurnTo Networks last year said they made purchases that were influenced by user-generated content (including not only product reviews on retailer sites, but also video reviews and other content on YouTube and elsewhere). More than 70% of those surveyed said that viewing such content helped them become more confident in their buying decisions and companies like REI are using it to make ad campaigns more powerful.
As for voice search, Amazon's Alexa may have made the capability famous, but we have since seen many companies roll out voice-activated virtual assistants through smart speakers, mobile smartphones and other devices. Voice-activated search could also become a common feature on retailer and brand websites.
Consumers are becoming more comfortable with these assistants, and it may be time for retailers to acknowledge the force they are becoming. A recent Capgemini study, for example, suggested that about 40% of consumers will use a voice assistant as an alternative to a mobile app or website within the next three years. The wind is shifting in a major way.
The customer-facing interface is just one part of this trend, however. There are also companies like AddStructure that provide speech recognition and natural language processing, along with the artificial intelligence and machine learning components necessary to analyze and act on the voice requests that are received.
AddStructure's technology will allow users to more quickly find reviews and ratings in Bazaarvoice's network that are most relevant to them, as machine learning and natural language processing can comb through and analyze large amounts of content to extract and summarize product reviews. Bazaarvoice likely recognized that the ongoing value of the content on its network depends on such efficiencies, and its own sale to Marlin may have put the company in a financial position to move on that notion (financial terms of the AddStructure acquisition were not disclosed).