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Walmart To Rollout Voice-Shopping Via Google Assistant To 4,700 Stores

"Our new voice shopping capability, including free two-day shipping and the Pickup Discount, will give our customers a compelling new way to get what they need at low prices," says Walmart U.S. eCommerce CEO Marc Lore.

Walmart is taking another aim at an area rival Amazon has chartered by partnering with Google on voice-activated shopping.

Owners of the Google Home will be able to speak orders to their voice-activated Google Assistant (aka “Okay, Google”) for delivery or pickup via its local online shopping marketplace Google Express. The Walmart connection follows previous store partnerships with Costco, Target, and Whole Foods, which, coincidentally, is being acquired by Amazon for $13.7 billion.

The collaboration isn’t only done with Amazon’s competition in mind; it also reflects how rapidly the adoption of Connected Intelligence and the use of voice-activated digital assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Samsung’s Bixby are entering the mainstream of consumer behavior.

The Walmart/Google Express program will start in late September, says Walmart U.S. eCommerce CEO and President Marc Lore, in a statement.

Walmart orders being taken on the Google Express app will be available on Google Home for voice-activation in September.

“We’ll be working with Google to offer hundreds of thousands of items for voice shopping via Google Assistant – the largest number of items currently offered by a retailer through the platform,” Lore says.

“One of the primary use cases for voice shopping will be the ability to build a basket of previously purchased everyday essentials,” Lore adds. “That’s why we decided to deeply integrate our Easy Reorder feature into Google Express.

The Need For Immediacy, Personalization

“This will enable us to deliver highly personalized shopping recommendations based on customers’ previous purchases, including those made in Walmart stores and on Walmart.com,” Lore says. “To take advantage of this personalization, customers only need to link their Walmart account to Google Express.”

By next year, Walmart also plans to leverage its 4,700 U.S. stores and its fulfillment network “to create customer experiences that don’t currently exist within voice shopping anywhere else,” including choosing to pick up an order in store (often for a discount) or using voice shopping to purchase fresh groceries across the country.

The partnership on voice-activation comes less than a year when Google Home debuted as a Connected Home product to augment Google Assistant.

“Shopping isn’t always as easy as it should be,” Sridhar Ramaswamy, SVP for Ads and Commerce, said in a blog post. “When was the last time you needed to pick up something from the store but didn’t have the time to make the trip? Or you went to the store only to realize they didn’t have the brand you wanted? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get what you want, however you want, from the stores where you already shop? We launched Google Express and shopping on the Google Assistant to do just that: make it faster and easier for you to shop your stores like Costco, Target and now Walmart.”

Walmart and Google Home

That emphasis on immediacy is a primary driver of this alliance. After all, Walmart and Google both have been pursuing omnichannel strategies while seeking to protect their respective areas of dominance: for Walmart, it’s in the offline retail space; for Google, it’s in online marketing and advertising.

The trend toward online/offline purchases and instant access is a part of every major retailer’s agenda at the moment. In the last month, Target and Office Depot both introduced their new same-day delivery even as Amazon began to add its own instant-pickup option.

The Amazon Effect

The competitive landscape that Amazon, Google, Walmart, as well as other players on the voice-activation spectrum, is currently being reshaped with every new tool and partnership.

And that has independent grocers and smaller chains scrambling to see how to either match or counter the behemoths moves on their own.

“Walmart is pushing its vendors to use [Microsoft’s cloud computing server] Azure over [Amazon’s] AWS,” notes Jeremy Neren, founder and CEO of GrocerKey, a white label solution for grocers that want to create their own e-commerce shopping platform. “I view this as a similar strategic push. Everyone knows that frictionless shopping is growing in popularity and will play a major role in the shopping experience of the future. Walmart knows they need to play in this space to serve customers — and keep pace with Amazon, But, for obvious reasons, it is likely concerned about building its strategy through an Amazon-powered device — the Echo. Hence, the push toward Google Assistant.

“Other retailers like Target will have to follow suit, and they will,” Neren adds. “Many already are. We at GrocerKey are providing the bridge for retailers to get into the frictionless shopping game by building that capability into our platform – both internally and via partnership.”

In the meantime, observers of the larger retail shifts wonder whether the Walmart/Google alliance can blunt Amazon’s push into online/offline voice-activated commerce and shopping discovery?

“This is a great first step but it is really just putting lipstick on the pig and may be dangerous for the pig,” says Bryan Eisenberg, co-founder of marketing consultancy BuyerLegends and co-author of  Be Like Amazon: Even A Lemonade Stand Can Do It.

“In the keynote I am delivering next week, ‘Saying Goodbye to the Buy Button,’ (every pun intended) I am urging the audience to focus on conversational UX, chatbots, and start thinking about gesture as AR/VR begin to take place and the ‘next billion’ people come online,” Eisenberg tells GeoMarketing.

“The challenge here for Walmart is that in order to truly compete with Amazon, they need full access to the data, the voice stream that Google will never share with them,” Eisenberg says. “Conversational commerce is not fully ready for “Prime time” but it is getting there quicker than most organizations are willing to realize. Remember when everyone kept asking if ‘this is the year of mobile?’ and then the iPhone came out a decade ago — and the world changed.”

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of GeoMarketing.com. A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.