Walmart, Google Enter Voice-Shopping Fray

Walmart and Google, two of Amazon’s biggest rivals, on Wednesday announced a partnership that will let customers use Google’s Home speaker and a number of voice-assisted mobile devices to shop online at Walmart.

Their mutual goal is to eat away at Amazon’s dominant share in the e-commerce shopping space and the smart speaker space, in order to curb the growth of its giant ecosystem, which threatens to smother competition in both industries.

Amazon Juggernaut

The partnership by two of the world’s most important brands in the retail and technology sectors is an indication of just how powerful a rival Amazon has become. The decision to expand beyond their comfort zones indicates the urgency each company feels about slowing down Amazon.

Starting in late September, Walmart will offer hundreds of thousands of items for voice shopping through Google Assistant — the most from any retailer — noted Marc Lore, CEO of Walmart’s U.S. e-commerce business.

Walmart will integrate its Easy Order feature into Google Express, he said, noting that one of the primary attractions of voice-enabled shopping is the ability to build a basket of previously purchased everyday essentials.

Beginning in 2018, Walmart plans to leverage its 4,700 retail stores and fulfillment centers to allow in-store pickup, and to allow customers to use Google’s Home voice assistant to buy fresh groceries across the United States.

Voice Response

Google has made significant strides in its natural language processing and artificial intelligence technologies, allowing it to create a powerful voice shopping experience, Lore said.

Google earlier this year announced that it would expand Google Express shopping to Google Home, the smart speaker it launched last year to compete with the Amazon Echo family. Google has more than 50 retailers participating in the Express program, including major brands like PetSmart, Costco, Whole Foods, and Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Customers with a Walmart account can link their information to Google and get personalized shopping results based on prior online and in-store purchases, said Sridhar Ramaswamy, senior vice president for ads and commerce at Google .

Google on Wednesday also started offering free shipping for Google Express orders that meet each retailer’s minimum requirement.

Google’s artificial intelligence technology might give customers of this new partnership a slight edge over Amazon, suggested Paula Rosenblum, managing partner at RSR Research.

“Overall, I know a lot of people are buying the Echo and various Alexa-enabled devices, but in some ways doing the requisite price check or even looking at the product takes you back to a screen,” she told the E-Commerce Times. “For questions, or controlling IoT devices at home, it’s much more interesting — and in that area, I actually think Google might be ahead.”

Amazon’s Edge

However, it’s still too early to say how much market share the Google and Walmart partnership will be able to move, compared to Amazon, said Michael Levin, a partner at Consumer Intelligence Research Partners.

“We do know that Google Home does have a meaningful share of the U.S. installed base of these devices, about one quarter to Amazon’s three-quarters,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

About half of Amazon Echo owners have used the Alexa voice technology to make a purchase, and 30 percent of those owners use it to make a purchase at least once a week.

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times.

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