Will the Walmart/Google voice deal give Amazon’s Alexa a run for its money?

Images: Google, Walmart
Aug 23, 2017
George Anderson

Move over Alexa. Walmart shoppers will soon be able to buy thousands of products online by speaking to their Google Home device or a mobile phone loaded with the Google Express app.

Beginning later next month, hundreds of thousands of items sold by Walmart will be available via Google Assistant, making Walmart the retailer selling the most products through the platform.

Walmart and Google broke the news earlier today in separate posts on their company blogs.

“One of the primary use cases for voice shopping will be the ability to build a basket of previously purchased everyday essentials. That’s why we decided to deeply integrate our Easy Reorder feature into Google Express,” wrote Marc Lore, president and CEO, Walmart U.S. eCommerce. “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. To take advantage of this personalization, customers only need to link their Walmart account to Google Express.”

Mr. Lore said that Walmart intends to pursue the voice assistant opportunity aggressively by leveraging its 4,700 stores in the U.S. along with its fulfillment network to offer such services as placing orders for in-store pickup with a discount. Walmart customers will also be able to place their fresh grocery orders in the same way.

A partnership with Google makes sense, according to Mr. Lore, because of the tech giant’s expertise in natural language processing and artificial intelligence.

He invited any comparisons between the Walmart/Google offering and those from other retailers. “We think that’s the way it should be,” he wrote. “An open and transparent shopping universe is good for customers.”

While still early in the technology’s deployment, voice is growing as a tool for consumers to make purchases. Fifteen percent of consumers say they always or often make a purchase using voice, according to research by Walker Sands. Nineteen percent say they have used Amazon Echo or another voice-activated device in the past year while one-third of those surveyed plan to do so over the next year.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will the Walmart/Google deal speed up adoption of voice-activated devices as a shopping tool? Will the deal help level the playing field between Walmart and Amazon?

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22 Comments on "Will the Walmart/Google voice deal give Amazon’s Alexa a run for its money?"

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Art Suriano

I think the partnership of Walmart and Google is wise and no doubt the voice-activated services will be successful. Being able to order something by speaking it is a tremendous convenience and one that will continue to be used by more consumers. I like that Walmart continues to be creative in how it competes with Amazon. The order online, pick up in store and get a discount model is a brilliant idea and one that will help store traffic and most importantly impulse buying.

Kiri Masters

In a nutshell: Despite playing a game of tit-for-tat with Amazon across the board, Walmart will not be building their own Echo counterpart.

Ken Lonyai

There is a lot of ways to look at this:

  1. Walmart was almost obligated to go this direction;
  2. there isn’t a major overlap between Walmart and Amazon customers, so forcing them to choose sides isn’t horrible for now;
  3. Google needed this as much (maybe more than) Walmart.

What makes (current) voice interfaces different than mobile and web is that each requires the user to invest in proprietary hardware. A browser is free and enables shopping anywhere, whereas a speaker device requires some investment and is an exclusive platform. Most consumers are not going to acquire multiple platform devices. So despite what those jumping on the voice bandwagon may profess, the nature of voice devices/shopping may create the need of a winner take all scenario to not ultimately fade in popularity. The issue will only be amplified when more platforms hit the market.

Jon Polin

This deal was inevitable. In a world in which Google is competing with Amazon on voice capabilities and Walmart is competing with Amazon on overall product catalog, it’s only natural that Google and Walmart join forces in this way. The winner is the consumer, who is getting an expanded array of simple ways (and places) to shop.

Sterling Hawkins

This is definitely an added value for shoppers who already have a Google Home device giving them access to a new and much broader realm of products to shop from. I don’t know if alone it will spur more people to adopt the device, but it is part of a comprehensive and growing set of capabilities that collectively consumers are looking for. This is a super-smart step for Walmart.

Phil Chang
Phil Chang
Retail Influencer, Speaker and Consultant
9 months 28 days ago

Interesting play by Walmart. We know Walmart for its $240 average shopping basket and Amazon to be the online go-to for everything convenient. I’m not ordering $240 and an average of 35 items on Alexa or Google Home.

While voice ordering will have a place, the questions are: will Walmart have enough quality items that I’d want to order via Google Home? Will Great Value have the same appeal as Amazon Basics? Can having Walmart just a command away make people switch away from Amazon? How much will your music preferences influence whether you use Google Home or Alexa?

This play is certainly clever because it takes Google into new places and helps Walmart threaten more than just retail for Amazon. Can’t wait to see what happens next!

Cynthia Holcomb

Totally agree “will Walmart have enough quality items to order via Google Home?” Seems technology has become more important than the product itself.

Keith Anderson

Partnering with Google accelerates Walmart’s rollout of voice commerce by giving it immediate access to an installed base of Google Home device owners and sparing Walmart the investment of time and capital to build its own voice search and commerce capabilities.

Walmart appears to be choosing to partner instead of building or buying. That decision always comes with trade-offs, like losing control over Google’s roadmap, limited (or shared) access to customer data, limited (or shared) control of the customer’s experience and uncertainty about the long-term cost of supporting voice commerce.

It’s notable to me, for example, that Google Home shoppers will be completing multi-item purchases via the Google Express app, not Walmart’s app.

Ultimately it’s a step forward for Walmart.

But I wonder if this may not be the first of many steps. I’ve been told that Walmart’s Store No. 8 tech incubator may also have a voice play, and I think over the long-term retailers will want proprietary or white-label voice commerce capabilities so that they maintain more control over customers’ experience and data.

Brandon Rael

If executed properly, the Walmart/Google partnership will make things very interesting on the voice-activated commerce front. This certainly was inevitable, as both Walmart and Google need each other to aggressively go after this market. For both companies, this is an outstanding opportunity to provide a more seamless shopping experience, add hundreds of thousands of Walmart items to the Google marketplace, take advantage of Google’s platform and fully leverage the 4,700 Walmart stores as potential fulfillment centers.

Along with Walmart’s digital native-targeted acquisitions (Bonobos, Jet.com), they company has absolutely made their intentions clear that they are strategically competing with Amazon. The question remaining is not if Walmart’s entrance into the voice-activated commerce space will help level the playing field, but rather when. These indeed are interesting times.

Max Goldberg

Smart move by Walmart and Google. Not only will this alliance speed the adoption of voice ordering, in one move it made these two companies more competitive with Amazon. The devil will be in the details — pricing, speedy fulfillment and building loyalty — all of which Amazon currently possesses. With this deal, Walmart leaves Target and traditional grocers in the dust.

Phil Masiello

This partnership will certainly help both Google and Walmart. But will it unseat Amazon? Not a chance. Amazon has built up such consumer loyalty and that will be difficult to break. Over 62 percent of all product searches begin on Amazon vs 30 percent on Google and the remaining 8 percent on other sites. That is not something that will be easy to change overnight no matter how good the technology is or how many e-commerce sites Walmart buys.

Paula Rosenblum

I think this is huge … I really do. Doug McMillon is starting to ascend into 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.

Harley Feldman

Walmart choosing to use Google Assistant will absolutely speed up the adoption of voice-activated devices as a shopping tool. The result of the partnership will be the largest retailer working with the largest search engine both of whom have hundreds of millions of customers, many in common. Both brands are well known by their customers and the transition to voice-activated ordering for either online or in-store pickup will be easy. This partnership will level the playing field with Amazon. Walmart has over 4,000 stores where items can be ordered online and picked up in the store, an option Amazon does not have. Amazon’s thrust will be to continue to offer high-speed delivery. But the speed and cost to deliver or pick up items, especially in less densely-populated areas, will give Walmart a huge advantage given their store presence.

Ken Cassar

This is a great baby step for Google and Walmart, but Google Shopping Express is only available in a limited number of markets and they are just offering some of Walmart’s inventory. Let’s not lose the forest through the trees here though. It looks as though Walmart is not going to build an Echo competitor, which is a big deal. This is one of the first overt moves that we are seeing toward the development of a coalition of companies that are aligning to collectively challenge Amazon’s dominance of e-commerce. I’ll let someone else come up with a clever name for it.

Gene Detroyer

There is a phrase in retail we all know: location, location, location. Amazon owes the most valuable location in retail with their “mall.” While we should praise Walmart and Google for this alliance, it is hardly a challenge to Amazon.

If Walmart and Google can take the next step and become that mall as well, then they may have chance. Until then, they are just a store. Yes, a great store, but just a store on the internet.

Dave Bruno
The simplicity of voice ordering “replenishment” items is, quite simply, the magic of the internet fully realized. Just tell Alexa (or now Google) what you want, and within a couple days your order appears at your doorstep. No interface, no screen, no typing. I have been waiting for other retailers to figure this out about Alexa and am not surprised to see Walmart (finally) get in the game. What I really hope this new entry will do is accelerate the pace by which we simplify the requirement for and the complexity of skills to be memorized. At the moment this is a significant inhibitor for adoption of voice. Also, it will be interesting to see how Walmart treats the exploration and recommendation of items not previously purchased. To date, Amazon requires a lot of trust from consumers when making new recommendations. Paula Rosenblum of RSR, (another BrainTrust member), Jeff Roster of IHL and I collaborated to explore this topic in a new e-book just released last week: “There’s Something About Alexa: Preparing for Conversational Commerce.”… Read more »
Lee Kent

We are only talking 15 and 19 percent so it is still just the beginning of the game but a smart move on Walmart’s part to jump in now. I especially think Walmart may have an edge with the number of stores they have and can use for pickup. And pickup with a discount? That’s even better. Once again, kudos to Walmart. And my 2 cents.

William Hogben

Walmart is ahead of Amazon here in a sense, because it can take natural language orders from recent Android phones too and not just the house hardware. Google gets a boost in its fight to remain part of the purchase process. We will see how much impact voice ordering has — I do not believe the referenced survey results are representative.

Adam Silverman

We are in the early phases of conversational commmerce, and this partnership, for the time being, makes sense. Behind the scenes, Google also removed their annual fee for Express, which removes a ton of barriers for customers. What Google gets — more products, more (potential) adoption of Google Home and Express, more customers, more potential search revenue (future position that aligns with their business model). What Walmart gets — a foothold in the home, data, experience with conversational commerce (this is a huge plus IMO).

What Walmart DOES NOT GET — a branded “voice”! The future of retail brands will be in conversations. Brands will be portable and increasingly attached to an intelligent personal assistant. Walmart just gave this brand position to Google. It’s akin to setting up a storefront on eBay vs creating your own storefront. Walmart must/will create their own personal assistant. Will Google allow that personal assistant to have a presence within Google Home? Likely not.

gordon arnold

The proposed mutual effort leading into an e-commerce partnership will be of great value to both Walmart and Google. Not only will this expand the marketing opportunities both companies are striving for, it will also expand the needs and knowledge that both have for their core market places. Once the software issues are merged and overcome, the software developments for the future will weigh in heavily on the competition. I have no doubt that Amazon will call in IOUs from congress and the senate to investigate this deal.

Cynthia Holcomb

Yes, for commodities, but not for purchases people make based on individual aesthetic preferences and human emotion. I also question how many people want a device in their home hearing everything they say or do, even when not turned on. I think good for Walmart, yes it helps level the playing field for voice crazy consumers. And considering the vast physical assets, Walmart has in place, game on… Speaking of privacy, has anyone read the new Nordstrom Rack privacy policy going into effect in September? Very much worth a read!

Ricardo Belmar
This arrangement was inevitable for both Google and Walmart or they risk being left behind in the future of commerce with Amazon. I would go as far as to claim that Google gets the better end of this deal to make the Google Home device more relevant to potential buyers. The real dark horse in all of this is Apple with their upcoming smart speaker and how they choose to enable Siri with commerce capabilities built on Apple Pay. Walmart benefits from this deal by not being forced to develop their own hardware device although you have to wonder if they will suffer for losing control of consumer data to Google in the process. We also have to remember that Google Express (which this is linked to) is only available in limited places despite there being over 4000 Walmart stores to leverage. From personal experience I know many, many people who own Alexa devices and no one that owns a Google Home device (plus many others who are eagerly anticipating Apple’s device). Each vendor has… Read more »
"Despite playing a game of tit-for-tat with Amazon across the board, Walmart will not be building their own Echo counterpart."
"...one of the first overt moves toward the development of a coalition of companies that are aligning to collectively challenge Amazon..."
"I think this is huge … I really do. Doug McMillon is starting to ascend into Frank Blake territory with his creative ways of establishing new markets."

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