Perhaps this was, in some way, inevitable: Walmart has got Amazon square in its sights after announcing a partnership with Google for voice-enabled shopping.
The partnership, which will become available in ‘late September’, will enable customers to pick thousands of Walmart items through Google Assistant. Carts can also be personalised, with Google having access to Walmart shoppers’ purchase histories, so enabling a smoother, more efficient shopping experience.
Perhaps most tellingly however, it will be the first time Walmart has ever sold goods online outside of its own domain.
Marc Lore, president and CEO of Walmart’s US eCommerce arm, wrote in a blog post that it was the largest number of items currently offered by a retailer through the platform.
“When it comes to voice shopping, we want to make it as easy as possible for our customers. That’s why it makes sense for us to team up with Google,” wrote Lore. “They’ve made significant investments in natural language processing and artificial intelligence to deliver a powerful voice shopping experience.
“We know this means being compared side by side with other retailers, and we think that’s the way it should be,” he added. “An open and transparent shopping universe is good for customers.”
Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google SVP advertising and commerce, added: “We’re thrilled to partner with one of the most popular stores in America to help make your shopping faster and easier.”
As a lot of the coverage around the Walmart-Google deal has identified, Walmart is targeting Amazon’s not inconsiderable clout.
Writing for Business Insider, Daniel Keyes explained: “The two companies are looking to combine their strengths to draw shoppers away from Amazon. Separately, neither company has had much success…but the two do have legitimate advantages over the Seattle-based company.”
These, Keyes argues, are deeper expertise in artificial intelligence (AI) from Google’s side, and Walmart’s naturally larger physical presence, offering such omni-channel options as click and collect. Naturally, it must be noted that the two companies are putting their cards together against Amazon’s stack – the latter already allows users to purchase its products through virtual assistant Alexa.
Yet there may be another factor at play.
Towards the end of June, it was reported that Walmart had told technology companies it was working with to move off Amazon’s cloud, Amazon Web Services (AWS). As David Auslander, writing for sister publication CloudTech, put it at the time, the only clear winners from Walmart’s actions may be Amazon’s biggest cloud rivals, Microsoft and Google.
“Both companies should be going to a full court press, in reaching out to the affected suppliers and vendors, in order to wrest market share from Amazon,” he wrote. “Both companies are in a position to gain if they move quickly.”
Yet he added a caveat. “The providers will need to redevelop their services for Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud or risk losing Walmart’s business,” he wrote. “This would represent a significant cost and time challenge, which needs to be weighed against the value of doing business with Walmart.”