Flipkart to create Alexa's nemesis? It just bought an AI firm that converts speech to text

With this acquisition, voice integration could be available in some parts of the Flipkart platform as early as 6-8 months.

By BusinessToday.In  
Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Walmart-backed Flipkart has just issued a challenge to Amazon's Alexa and Google Assistant. The home-grown e-commerce giant today announced that it has acquired Bengaluru-based artificial intelligence (AI) startup Liv.ai, which has developed a platform that converts speech-to-text in nine regional languages apart from English. With this move, the e-tailer hopes to soon offer an end-to-end conversational shopping experience for its users.

"Given the complexities in typing on vernacular keyboards, voice will become a preferred interface for new shoppers. One does understand that building a voice interface is complex, and is especially challenging in Indian context given multiple languages and accents," Flipkart CEO Kalyan Krishnamurthy said in a statement. "Ultimately, we want to give our customers a conversational e-commerce experience and believe that with the voice interface the opportunities are endless including discovery, search, engagement, transactions etc. With Liv, we're one step closer to making e-commerce accessible to emerging users."

According to The Economic Times, the deal is expected to be valued at around $40 million and, with this acquisition, voice integration could be available in some parts of the Flipkart platform as early as 6-8 months.

Launched in 2015 by three IIT-Kharagpur graduates, Subodh Kumar, Kishore Mundra and Sanjeev Kumar, Liv.ai claims to be the only company in India to be able to convert speech to text in nine Indian languages, including Bengali, Punjabi, Marathi, Gujarati, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu and Hindi.

"While Flipkart has been solving for quintessential Indian problems, it is an exciting time for us to join in and solve it together. We are excited with the opportunity that is being presented to scale this up further and make it available to millions of consumers and help them have a deep level e-commerce experience," Liv.ai CEO Subodh Kumar said on the occasion.

According to him, voice is "a much better and effortless interface" and it not only improves ease of use on an e-commerce platform but also increases the consumers buying propensity.

According to Flipkart, once the acquisition is complete, Liv.ai will be integrated into Flipkart Center of Excellence for Voice Solutions. As a part of the deal, the entire 20-member team of Liv, including its founders, will work under Flipkart Vice President, Ravish Sinha, to develop voice solutions, integration with Flipkart app and work on developing use cases for various categories.

The acquisition is a timely move, given that the next phase of the country's accelerated digital transformation will focus on Tier 2 towns and beyond. According to the daily, that translates to 200-300 million online shoppers. And a whopping majority of them speak vernacular languages, not English.

A recent report released by Bain & Company, Google and Omidyar Network, claims that India has the potential to unlock over $50 billion in online commerce in India by driving awareness, usage and transactions among the current and next set of internet users and shoppers.

Significantly, the study found that 54 million Indian users opted out after their first online purchase due to issues with user experience and pegged the potential uplift in e-commerce from reengaging this group at $6 billion, or even double that. Breaking down the language barrier, obviously, would be a key step in improving user experience.

Despite the huge digital divide, India already boasts the second highest active internet user base with 1 out of 3 people online. A lot of credit for that goes to the smartphone revolution. Now imagine the potential of the voice revolution that is already underway.

(Edited by Sushmita Choudhury Agarwal)

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