Walmart, Google tie up for voice-controlled shopping

Hundreds of thousands of Walmart items will be available on the voice-controlled Google Assistant platform from late next month.
Hundreds of thousands of Walmart items will be available on the voice-controlled Google Assistant platform from late next month.PHOTO: NYTIMES

CHICAGO • Walmart Stores is teaming up with Alphabet's Google to enter the nascent voice-shopping market, dominated by Amazon.com, adding another front to Walmart's battle with the online megastore.

Google, which makes the Android software used to run smartphones, will offer hundreds of thousands of Walmart items on its voice-controlled Google Assistant platform from late next month, Walmart's e-commerce head Marc Lore wrote in a blog post yesterday.

He added that Walmart would offer a wider selection than any retailer on the platform.

Amazon, whose voice-controlled aide Alexa allows users to shop from the retailer, has the lion's share of the United States' voice-controlled device industry, with its Echo devices accounting for 72.2 per cent of the market last year, far ahead of the Google Home gadget's 22 per cent, according to research firm eMarketer.

Amazon has also dominated Walmart and other brick-and-mortar retailers in online sales.

Walmart, however, has begun pushing back aggressively, offering discounts to customers who buy online and pick up in-store, and free two-day shipping for purchases of US$35 (S$48) or more. The latter move forced Amazon, which rarely imitates the competition, to lower its threshold for free shipping.

But while Amazon and Google's voice-controlled speakers are gaining popularity, people use them mainly for basic tasks such as making telephone calls or playing music.

To boost voice purchases, Amazon has started offering Alexa-only shopping deals.

"We're still in early days, but shopping isn't one of the big uses of the devices yet," eMarketer principal analyst Victoria Petrock said on Tuesday. "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."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2017, with the headline 'Walmart, Google tie up for voice-controlled shopping'. Print Edition | Subscribe