Walmart Debuts Voice-Enabled Shopping

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Walmart Debuts Voice-Enabled Shopping

By Randy Hofbauer - 08/23/2017

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is debuting voice shopping via Google Assistant in partnership with Mountain View, Calif.-based technology company Google, and will offer hundreds of thousands of items that can be purchased by speaking to the virtual personal assistant via the Google Home smart speaker, or on the Google Express website or mobile app.

Set to launch in late September, the service will offer more products than any other retailer offers via the voice assistant, all at Walmart’s Every Day Low Prices. Use cases will include the ability to build a basket of previously purchased everyday essentials, which is why Walmart has deeply integrated its Easy Reorder feature into Google Express: By linking their Walmart account to the service, customers can receive “highly personalized” shopping recommendations based on their previous purchases, whether online or in-store.

“For example, if you order Tide Pods or Gatorade, your Google Assistant will let you know which size and type you previously ordered from Walmart, making it easy for you to buy the right product again,” said Sridhar Ramaswamy, SVP of ads and commerce at Google, in a blog entry.

Google Express mobile app with a Google Home smart speaker
Users can now order groceries via the Google Home smart speaker, or on the Google Express website or mobile app

The new capability couples with the retailer’s “core value proposition,” including free two-day shipping and the Pickup Discount pickup-and-save service, heating up competition with Seattle-based ecommerce giant Amazon.com. But competition is likely to get hotter next year, as Walmart – which, unlike Amazon, operates 4,700 U.S. stores – plans to use its physical locations and 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 at a discount – or using voice shopping to purchase fresh groceries.

“When it comes to voice shopping, we want to make it as easy as possible for our customers,” said Marc Lore, president and CEO of Walmart U.S. ecommerce, in a blog entry. “That’s why it makes sense for us to team up with Google: They’ve 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 – an open and transparent shopping universe is good for customers.”

As an incentive to use the service, Ramaswamy shared that, along with other “exciting experiences” to come, Google is eliminating the $95 annual fee for Google Express shopping services through its partnering retailers, starting today. As long as users shop through voice with their Google Assistant or on the website or app, they will receive free delivery within one to three days. For Walmart purchases, fulfillment will be made by the retailer.

“It’s clear from Walmart’s strong Q2 earnings that focusing on e-commerce and in-store digital strategy was the right move," said Ed Kennedy, senior director of commerce at digital commerce and marketing company Episerver, based in Nashua, N.H. "The retail giant has deep roots in brick-and-mortar, but has adapted to the growing need for digital commerce capabilities such as mobile payment options, click-and-collect and same-day pickup perks and added inventory for online shoppers. Focusing on the digital customer experience and refining its already promising tech investments is what will lead Walmart toward success in the future.”

As Kennedy alluded to, Walmart has been testing or debuting a number of initiatives to combat Amazon and make it easier for shoppers to get the orders they want, when, where and how they desire – from click-and-collect innovations such as an automated grocery pickup kiosk and more in-store pickup towers, to free two-day shipping and delivery via Uber or even associates on their way home from work. The retailer is even planning to go beyond voice ordering by looking to venture into predictive ordering, one-upping the Amazon Dash one-button ordering devices, and applying for a patent for technology that adds to products Internet of Things tags, which will monitor product usage and auto-order replacements or refills.

People who order and/or expect to order via voice-ordering technology

Voice-assisted ordering is set to grow dramatically in popularity over the near future: One in five consumers have made a voice purchase through Amazon Echo – Google Home’s rival device family, which employs Amazon’s Alexa voice-assistant technology – or another digital home assistant, and another third of consumers plan to do the same in the next year, according to recent research from Chicago-based firm Walker Sands Communications. Moreover, roughly a quarter of consumers own a voice-controlled device whether an Amazon Echo (16 percent) or Google Home (6 percent), while another 20 percent plan to purchase one in the next year.

While younger demographics are more likely to shop via voice-controlled devices than older ones, 26- to 35-year-olds are especially prone to doing so. Walker Sands’ report notes that 37 percent of the age group that currently shops online is “often” or “always” doing its online shopping via voice-controlled devices, while 14 percent said “sometimes.” This is a key demographic due to the fact that its members are entering adulthood and likely to be making more grocery purchases – and doing so online – while schedules and households become more full.