Walmart and Google are putting their best features forward to take on Amazon together in the voice-activated shopping area.
“The discount chain announced in a blog post on Wednesday that beginning in late September, it will be making hundreds of thousands of items available for voice shopping on Google Assistant, in a bid to compete with Amazon's Alexa capability on its Echo devices and offer a service many competitors do,” writes Phil Wahba for Fortune. And, he reports, “Walmart is also launching on Google Express, the search giant's fast-delivery online shopping app and site, next month.”
Google also had its say, in a blog post welcoming Walmart this morning and pointing out the time-saving convenience of getting “what you want, however you want, from the stores where you already shop,” as Sridhar Ramaswamy, SVP ads and commerce, puts it.
“If you’re an existing Walmart customer, you can choose to link your Walmart account to Google and receive personalized shopping results based on your online and in-store Walmart purchases. 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.”
Or you can spend your dollars elsewhere.
“Google launched Google Express in 2013 and steadily expanded the service to reach the full contiguous U.S. by late last year. Google enlists third-party firms to fulfill orders from a variety of retailers, including Target Corp., Costco Wholesale Corp., Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., and Whole Foods Market Inc., which Amazon agreed to buy in June for $13.7 billion. Google Express earns money on commissions from those merchants. Walmart said it would fulfill its Google Express orders itself, a new, likely cheaper model for Google,” report Jack Nicas and Laura Stevens for the Wall Street Journal.
“The two companies said the partnership was less about how online shopping is done today, but where it is going in the future,” Daisuke Wakabayashi and Michael Corkery report for the New York Times.
“Walmart customers can link their accounts to Google, allowing the technology giant to learn their past shopping behavior to better predict what they want in the future. Google said that because more than 20% of searches conducted on smartphones these days are done by voice, it expects voice-based shopping to be not far behind,” they continue.
But this is not just about Walmart playing catch-up before that future arrives. It’s also about Google defending its search turf against Amazon.
“For Google, Amazon has already emerged as an unlikely foe as more and more online shoppers start their product searches on Amazon instead of on the traditional search engine, where Google is used to placing lucrative ads alongside those type of search results. A study last year found that 55% of U.S. adults start their online shopping trips on Amazon,” writes Jason Del Ray for Recode.
“And if voice commerce becomes popular and shoppers actually start searching for products by speaking to a device, Walmart is perhaps the only retailer in the U.S. that comes close to offering the breadth of Amazon’s product catalogue,” he continues.
Not that Walmart’s motivations are entirely mercenary. It gets us. In fact, it is us, we’re told.
“Running around, going to work, picking kids up from school, making dinner and, between all of that, there’s shopping to do. Because of this, I believe our job at Walmart isn't only about saving our customers money, but also about making shopping faster and easier,” is the way Marc Lore, president and CEO, Walmart U.S. ecommerce, lures us into his blog post about the partnership.
Lore is the founder of both Diapers.com and Jet.com which, you’ll recall, Walmart acquired last year for a cool $3 billion.
The dominant bricks-and-mortar retailer has been “working hard to close the gulf online between itself and Amazon,” as the AP’s Anne D’Innocenzio points out. “It has overhauled its shipping strategy and is expanding store-curb pickup for groceries ordered online. But it’s also had to look beyond itself and form partnerships. [It] announced Monday that it’s expanding its grocery delivery service with ride-hailing service Uber, and it's been testing same-day delivery service with Deliv at Sam's Club in Miami.
Walmart reported a 63% surge in online sales for the last quarter as its innovations under Lore’s direction have gained traction.
Alexa, as is her wont, is at least pretending to be above it all for the nonce. “Hmmmm,” she replied when asked this morning about the Google/Walmart alliance, “I don’t know that one.”