Walmart has fired yet another shot at Amazon, with the Bentonville behemoth now setting its sights on voice shopping. Amazon’s Alexa has wowed throughout 2017, but Walmart is teaming up with Google to offer thousands of items available for voice shopping via Google Assistant starting this September.
As part of the partnership, Google will offer Walmart products to people who shop on Google Express, its online shopping marketplace. This is the first time Walmart has made its products available online in the U.S., apart from its own web site.
With the Google partnership, Walmart sends a message that it is taking voice activation very seriously as a future purchasing option. More than 35 million Americans will use a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month in 2017, a nearly 130% jump from last year, according to data from eMarketer.
The report shows that 70.6% of voice-enabled speaker users will use Amazon Echo by the end of 2017, well ahead of Google Home’s 23.8% market share. Amazon’s big lead certainly adds fuel to the fire, further incentivizing Walmart and Google to team up.
“I think this is huge…I really do,” said Paula Rosenblum, Managing Partner at Retail Systems Research (RSR) in a RetailWire discussion. “Doug McMillon is starting to ascend into [former Home Depot CEO] Frank Blake territory with his creative ways of establishing new markets. Of course, brilliant on Google’s part too. Everyone does what they’re good at and the customer benefits. I am happy to see competition back on the rise.”
Will Voice Shopping Gain Traction In 2018?
In a company blog post, Marc Lore, President and CEO of Walmart U.S. eCommerce, said that Walmart will roll out increased voice shopping capabilities in 2018, including the option of picking up an order in-store (often for a discount) or using voice shopping to purchase fresh groceries across the country.
“From Walmart’s vantage point, the relationship appears to be a ‘win/win’ and builds upon many of its recent digital ecosystem initiatives, including: (1) Digital native acquisitions (Jet.com, Shoes.com, Moosejaw, ModCloth, Bonobos and speculation of Birchbox); (2) Online grocery/in-store pick-up (900 stores in Q2 up from 400 a year ago); (3) Third-party marketplaces (67M total SKUs today); and (4) BOPIS discount tests,” said Chuck Grom, Consumer and Retail Equity Analyst at research advisory firm Gordon Haskett, in commentary provided to Retail TouchPoints. “One of the more interesting aspects from our seats is that starting in 2018, consumers will be able to place voice orders for in-store pickup, including fresh grocery items, giving Walmart another avenue to drive shoppers into stores to augment traffic.”
Walmart also has integrated its Easy Reorder feature into Google Express, enabling existing Walmart customers to link their Walmart account to Google to receive personalized shopping results based on previous online and in-store Walmart purchases.
The move benefits the Google Express platform as well, which now hosts products from more than 50 retailers, including Target, Costco, Kohl’s and Ulta. The service has largely been a miss for the Internet search giant, with the company abandoning its same-day delivery and grocery delivery pilots. Google plans to offer free delivery on products purchased on Google Express as long as shoppers meet each store’s individual threshold.
“I’d expect something more ambitious from a Walmart/Google partnership but this feels like a ‘dip your toe in the water, let’s see how we work together’ exercise,” said Kate Hiscox, CEO of product data transformation platform provider Venzee in commentary provided to Retail TouchPoints. “Humans are inherently lazy and trying to persuade customers to give up their one-click habits, even for the three minutes it would take to set up to Google Express, is an uphill battle for any brand. However, Walmart has built its brand on aggressive pricing so it will be interesting to see if their reputation compels consumers to try this out.”