Walmart and Google Debut Voice-Command Online Shopping

Walmart is debuting shopping with voice commands on its website, via Google Home and Google Home Mini devices; it also offers customers $25 off their order if they buy one of the Google devices and link their Walmart account to Google Express’ shopping platform. The result may boost numbers of users who adopt voice shopping, and will also make it easier for customers with Google Home to easily reorder items they’ve previously purchased; with it, Walmart’s ease of shopping rivals Amazon’s Buy Now option and Dash Buttons.

Business Insider reports that, “this partnership will also allow Walmart to take advantage of Google’s artificial intelligence capabilities,” and “since Google will have access to Walmart customers’ purchase histories, and other valuable data points, it will be able to push personalized promotions to these shoppers.” This combination may “encourage time-pressed shoppers to purchase more through these devices … driving up e-commerce sales for Walmart.”

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The New York Times reports that Walmart is also ramping up a grocery pickup service “as a way to marry its e-commerce business with its gigantic network of stores.” The service, which began two years ago, is now available in 1,000 of Walmart’s 4,699 stores in the U.S. NYT calls this “the latest salvo in Walmart’s retail battle with Amazon, and the centerpiece of its strategy to gain the upper hand in the pursuit of consumers looking to streamline their food shopping.”

Walmart is experimenting with many different delivery paradigms: using Uber and even having a delivery person load groceries into the refrigerator, with the customer watching via a home security camera.

The risk is that “Walmart’s new grocery strategy could undercut its sales of other products,” since customers won’t be going into stores. “That is the philosophy of the Supercenter: You put all these other categories under one roof,” said Cornell University professor emeritus of food marketing Gene German. “So if the customers don’t go into the stores, that could be a negative.”

Walmart’s response is that its approach to online grocery ordering will make a positive impression on customers who will then be “more likely to purchase general merchandise in addition to food.” Walmart hasn’t disclosed figures for online grocery sales, but its Q2 results, which included all online sales, increased 60 percent from the previous year. Walmart says it has “hired thousands of workers to staff the new service across its many stores.”

Amazon’s latest move in the online retail grocery competition was, in June, buying Whole Foods for $13.4 billion. German supermarket chain Lidl is “also making a big push to open stores in the United States,” and “grocery delivery companies like Fresh Direct have spawned a contest among traditional grocers and startups to offer faster home delivery.”