Walmart and Google have unveiled the custom voice-shopping service promised in January when the retailer ended its partnership with Google Express and its associated Shopping Actions service.
Bypassing Google’s shopping platform, Walmart instead developed a custom cross-platform grocery-focused action for the Google Assistant that lets shoppers add items directly to their Walmart online shopping carts across a variety of enabled devices. Customers open the action by saying “Hey Google, talk to Walmart,” and once preliminaries such as privacy notices as well as location permissions are set up, customers can add items to their cart throughout the day.
“We know when using voice technology, customers like to add items to their cart one at a time over a few days — not complete their shopping for the week all at once. So, this capability aligns with the way customers shop,” Tom Ward, senior vice president of digital operations for Walmart U.S., said in a corporate blog post.
The service is rolling out throughout April. The only requirement is that customers are near one of the 2,100-plus Walmart locations that offer store pickup or the 800-plus stores that offer delivery. The functionality will tap into prior purchase data to help identify correct brands and sizes so customers can make one-word, generic requests such as "milk." When not enough data is available, it will suggest the item with the best local price and availability. Customers will be able to modify their orders via smartphone or desktop.
“The more you use it, the better we’ll get,” Ward said in the blog post. Unlike apparel, electronics and many other categories, grocery shopping is largely comprised of repeat purchases, making it possible to remove the friction of having to spell out details by using data from prior purchases to fill in the blanks instead.
“Moving forward, we expect that more and more retailers will invest in smart voice assistance, especially for grocery, beauty, and health categories as these categories involve frequent re-ordering and consumption needs are often realized at live moments where hands-free interaction is much more preferred," says Fang Cheng, chief executive officer of Sunnyvale, CA-based Linc Global, which enables automated customer engagement using chat and voice platforms.
During a few trial runs, the custom Walmart voice commerce experience was hit or miss. When asked for Clorox Co.'s Burt’s Bees toothpaste, Walmart suggested a second flavor when the first option was declined. When asked for lemons, Walmart offered the price on a single fruit and asked how many to add to the cart. Walmart suggested Hello Products' flagship brand when asked for a charcoal toothpaste and Unilever's Suave when asked for any shampoo, but did not have an answer when prompted for an organic shampoo option.
"In the case of Walmart, while the retailer may have its product listed as ‘milk,’ the customer may ask their smart device for ‘a dairy-free milk brand, or the best milk for baking a cake.’ This is where search relevancy comes into play as it offers an additional level of personalization and convenience for consumers entering the discovery and research shopping phases," says Roland Gossage, ceo of Toronto-based GroupBy Inc., which offers cloud-based, e-commerce software solutions. "Retailers must have improved search relevancy functions in order to anticipate shopper’s queries and remain successful as conversational commerce continues to expand.”
Ward indicated more voice partners would be added in the future: “We’re kicking off with Google, adding others to the mix as time goes on.”