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Walmart, Google teams up on voice-controlled shopping

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BENTONVILLE, Ark. — As of this month, Walmart shoppers will have another convenient way to purchase hundreds of thousands of products from the retail giant — via the Google Express e-commerce platform, Google Inc.’s online shopping mall.

Both companies announced the partnership last month — a joint venture that could rival Amazon.com Inc.’s position in the e-commerce ­universe.

The partnership not only increases Walmart’s online footprint — especially with shoppers who utilize Google’s search engine to research and purchase products — but the joining of forces also allows consumers additional ease and convenience of purchase by providing them with the option of speaking into their Google Home voice-controlled device and using the Google Assistant feature. This particular feature poses the most direct challenge to Amazon in that it competes with Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo device, which also offers voice shopping.

Other retailers have already joined with Google to sell their products using Google Express, such as Target Corp., Costco Wholesale Corp., Whole Foods Market Inc., Ulta and Kohl’s Corp. However, unlike Walmart, none of these companies — as of now — provide shoppers with the option to link up a pre-existing user account with Google Express. Another unique feature to this arrangement is that Walmart will be offering the largest quantity of products via the Google Express ­platform.

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

Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google’s head of commerce, referred to the integration of Google and Walmart as the “first of its kind” with the partnership expected to go further than any other express retailer currently available, and Lore added that Walmart intends to build on the arrangement.

“Next year, we will also leverage our 4,700 U.S. stores and our fulfillment network to create customer experiences that don’t currently exist within voice shopping anywhere else, including choosing to pick up an order in store (often for a discount) or using voice shopping to purchase fresh groceries across the country,” Lore said. “Our new voice shopping capability, coupled with our core value proposition, including free two-day shipping and the Pickup Discount, will give our customers a compelling new way to get what they need at low prices.”

Customers, according to Ramaswamy, will be able to link their Walmart and Google accounts, which would enhance convenience, such as providing a short cut when reordering commonly purchased products through Google’s voice software. For instance, when customers recognize that a certain staple, such as toilet paper, is in low supply, they can simply speak to Google and the order is on the way.

Last month, Google also began giving customers free delivery on orders via Google Express — with the caveat that they were above the retailer’s minimum for such orders. In terms of the Walmart partnership, Walmart’s minimum for free delivery will be set at $35.

According to both companies, the partnership is less a statement about how shopping is currently being done online and more about where it is headed.


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