Voice activated shopping has been called a potential game-changer for the retail industry. Amazon has its voice-activated smart home device, Echo, and virtual assistant Alexa. Google Home’s Google Assistant offers voice shopping capabilities via the Google Express marketplace.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. wants in on the voice command shopping action, and has partnered with Google to offer in late September hundreds of thousands of items via Google Assistant. Marc Lore, president and chief executive officer of Wal-Mart U.S. e-commerce, said it will be the largest number of items offered by a retailer through the platform. Google’s existing partnerships with retailers include Costco, Target and Bed Bath & Beyond.
Besides the size of the assortment, the Wal-Mart-Google partnership will differ from the search engine giant’s alliances with other retailers because it will give Wal-Mart customers the ability to build a basket of previously purchased everyday essentials. Lore said Wal-Mart decided to “deeply integrate our Easy Reorder feature into Google Express, which will enable us to deliver highly personalized shopping recommendations based on customers’ previous purchases, including those made in Wal-Mart stores and on walmart.com.”
To take advantage of the personalization, customers link their Wal-Mart account to Google Express.
“This is just the beginning,” Lore said. “Next year, we’ll leverage our 4,700 U.S. stores and our fulfillment network to create customer experiences that don’t 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.”
Lore said teaming up with Google made sense because the company has made significant investments in natural language processing and artificial intelligence to deliver a powerful voice shopping experience.
“We know this means being compared side-by-side with other retailers, and we think that’s the way it should be,” Lore added. “An open and transparent shopping universe is good for customers.”
The new voice shopping capability, coupled with Wal-Mart’s core value proposition, which includes free two-day shipping and the pickup in store discount, “will give our customers a compelling new way to get what they need at low prices,” said Lore. “We’ll continue to focus on creating new opportunities to simplify people’s lives and help them shop in ways they’ve not yet imagined.”
According to Parks Associates, adoption of voice assistants such as Amazon Echo and Google Home more than doubled from 2015 to 2016. However, penetration still is low with 12 percent of broadband households using the devices.
“Shopping isn’t always as easy as it should be,” said Sridhar Ramaswamy, senior vice president of ads and commerce at Google. “We launched Google Express and shopping on the Google Assistant to make it faster and easier. We’re entering an exciting partnership with Wal-Mart. You can buy through voice with your assistant on Google Home or on the Google Express Web site or app.”
Ramaswamy said that starting today Google would offer free delivery on Express as long as the order is above the store’s minimum. “We’re just getting started,” he said. “There will be lots more exciting experiences to come.”