9. The end of serendipity?

Tim Lawrence

Head of Strategy & Planning

What is it?

Consumer choice has always been controlled, but there’s now a more passive way of doing this: with algorithms. 

As algorithms become a greater part of our lives and start to dictate the products we buy and the news we see, consumer trust in the way these ‘black boxes’ work will be tested. Brands are used to coping with the Google Search algorithm, but the proliferation of machine learning and growth of smart speakers means that algorithms are everywhere. 

How will this impact you?

Most consumer are happy with the recommendations they currently receive from algorithms, particularly Google, but this trust will be tested as they become more pervasive. 

Algorithms are already widely used to process large amounts of data in public services – the NHS uses machine learning to analyse cancer scans, and PredPol is a predictive tool that helps police forces understand crime patterns. But how about when the recommendations are personalised? In September 2018 Amazon launched Alexa Hunches where Alexa proactively recommends based on your daily behaviour. This could be incredibly useful, but is there a chance choice and the opportunity to find new products will be restricted?

This potential lack of choice is exacerbated when screens are removed. We’ve seen that when grocery shopping, Alexa delivers different responses in voice as the Amazon site search. And worryingly for brands, Alexa often fails to mention that non-Amazon brand options are available (L2 Research).  


Ultimately, the public will become more aware of how algorithms make decisions for us, and, as with data privacy, trust will be tested. And there’s a more immediate impact for brands, who need to start adapting to more algorithms – particularly considering how voice search can change both results and search behaviour.   

The iCrossing view

Now is the time to understand how voice search will impact your category, purchase journey and brand discoverability. If a brand is using machine learning on customer data, it’s likely that there will eventually be regulations on how these can be used – there’s already been a Commons Paper on how UK Government can audit big tech firms’ ‘black box ‘algorithms. 

This trend is less about taking action and more about a watching brief – as algorithms become more pervasive in our homes, phones and cars, they’ll be the focus of media, regulators and the public.



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