When Walmart goes to war for retail dominance, it does not kid around about it. The last year has seen the nation’s once-largest retailer spend billions on web-based acquisitions (most notably its $3 billion Jet.com buy), cut its prices (to the chagrin of its suppliers), add grocery pick-up and roll out Walmart Pay nationwide. And those are just the individual efforts — Walmart has also been all about playing nicely with others this year as well. Recently, Big Blue announced it is rolling out grocery delivery with Uber and installment loans (in a pilot) with Affirm.
But wait, Walmart had one more hit to sneak in under the buzzer this week — it will also be teaming up with Google to take on Amazon in the emerging world of voice shopping.
Google, starting in September, will offer hundreds of thousands of Walmart items via its voice-controlled Google Assistant, according to Walmart’s head of eCommerce, Marc Lore. He also noted that with the tie-in, Walmart will be offering the widest selection of any retailer on the platform.
Both giants have another giant they are hoping to take on, and maybe weaken some — Amazon.
Walmart, of course, was dethroned as the nation’s largest retailer a few years ago — and is now brining new meaning to the term “not going down without a fight.” Google, as the maker of Home, is in a war for gadget dominance with Amazon’s Echo products.
Currently, Amazon and its voice-activated AI are dominant among voice-shopping enthusiasts, wired right into Amazon’s eCommerce machine as it is. As a result, Amazon is running the table in the emerging world of voice-control, with Echo devices representing 72.2 percent of the market in 2016, far ahead of the Google Home gadget’s 22 percent, according to research firm eMarketer.
Lore said in the blog post that Walmart was also integrating its quick reordering tool into Google’s same-day delivery service.
“One of the primary use cases for voice shopping will be the ability to build a basket of previously purchased everyday essentials,” he said in an interview with Reuters.
He added that Walmart has bigger plans for voice shopping next year that will bring in the chain’s staggering 4,700 U.S. stores to “create customer experiences that don’t currently exist within voice shopping anywhere else.”
So what does it all mean? Hard to say, according to Victoria Petrock, principal analyst at research firm eMarketer, as voice shopping is still in early days.
“Obstacles to people using the devices to shop are cost and privacy. A little more than six in 10 people are concerned that these virtual assistants are spying on them.”
But use is growing — and past the normal use cases of placing calls and listening to music. And Walmart, Google and Amazon are all vying to be the firm the service grows up with.