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Walmart And Google’s Voice-Assisted Commerce Partnership Highlights The Next Big Disruptor In Retail

Brendan Witcher
Principal Analyst
August 24, 2017

Walmart and Google have announced an important new partnership that directly addresses the growing markets for voice-assisted shopping and free expedited delivery. Marc Lore, president and CEO of Walmart US eCommerce, wrote on Walmart’s blog: “Starting in late September, we’ll be working with Google to offer hundreds of thousands of items for voice shopping via Google Assistant — the largest number of items currently offered by a retailer through the platform.” Customers will be able to buy from Walmart’s massive selection of products — currently only available on its website — through the Google Home device.

Google added its own commentary to the big announcement. The $95 Google Express membership fee is going away. Sridhar Ramaswamy, SVP of ads and commerce, stated: “Starting today, we’re offering free delivery on Google Express as long as your order is above each store’s minimum. There’s no membership required, so no matter how you shop — through voice with your Google Assistant or on the website or mobile app — you’ll get free delivery within one to three days.”

What will this experience look like? Easy. Specifically, customers will:

  • Place an order by simply saying “Send me ______” using the voice-assisted Google Home device. The device will likely provide some details, including price and expected delivery, and the customer then confirms the order.
  • Be able to link their Walmart accounts to Google to receive personalized shopping results based on online and in-store purchases.

This partnership pits the two giants of offline and online commerce, Walmart and Amazon respectively, squarely against each other. According to my colleague, Forrester VP and principal analyst James McQuivey, Amazon should keep on doing exactly what it’s doing. As he puts it, “It gives Amazon validation that the strategy is the one that everyone wants to follow.” Other retailers must now quickly build strategies for and dedicate resources to getting into this game.

This transformation is in its infancy. Google Home and Amazon Echo are strictly voice-enabled. The lack of a visual element means that these devices are best for ordering products that consumers are already familiar with and don’t want to spend much effort on, such as paper towels and soap.

But all retailers must take a longer-term view of what these devices mean for their business down the road, because the next phase is already underway. Amazon’s new Echo Look has a camera and is being positioned to help consumers with fashion and their “look.”  Amazon’s Echo Show, has both a camera and a touchscreen, which buyers can use to see and explore products in depth. Again, add two- one-, or even same-day delivery services, and you’ve got a strong case for consumers moving to these devices as their primary buying channel when in the home.

What does this mean for other retailers? It should have them very worried. Many are still struggling just to optimize their omnichannel and mobile experiences, so it’s time to act now. Retailers today have separate, specialized teams focusing on success in stores, eCommerce, mobile, app, and even marketplaces. This strategy works, but retailers must now consider these devices as new, important selling channels that they must prioritize today or risk being left behind. The good news: In January of this year, I surveyed 80 industry professionals about what technologies would matter in the coming year, and more than one-third of them said they had to address the voice-assisted commerce opportunity. What those efforts produce will remain to be seen.

For more information on important trends in the retail space:

  1. FREE: Listen to our downloadable and shareable podcast conversation on this topic: “The Retailer’s Dilemma — A Brick-And-Mortar Or Brand Problem (Or Both)?”
  2. Watch the webinar that outlines today’s retail challenges with transformation, including what and why certain tech investment strategies makes sense: “NRF Overview: The Most Important Retail Tech To Focus On For 2017.”
  3. Read the report that provides all the details of the great retail hoax of 2017: “Surprise — Retail Is Growing! Here’s What It Means For Digital Businesses.”
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