Walmart and Google are linking up to offer consumers a service that currently you can only get from Amazon: voice shopping. The effort will start with linking Walmart into Google Express, which is an online shopping service currently linking Google and several brick and mortar stores, ranging from Costco and PetSmart to Ace Hardware and Adorama. The new agreement will add Walmart to the mix and allow voice ordering from Walmart using Google’s Home device.
By adding Walmart, Google will have some significant advantages in its bid to catch up with Amazon, one of which is that Google Express is eliminating its membership fees while still offering free two- or three-day delivery—provided a minimum purchase price is met. Another is that Walmart has stores located in virtually every community in the United States, which means that many orders can be picked up the same day they’re placed.
While Amazon has same-day delivery in certain major metropolitan areas such as Washington, D.C., where I’m based, those same-day deliveries don’t exist elsewhere. In fact, Amazon’s much-ballyhooed two-day Prime delivery doesn’t really exist outside of major metro areas. In central Virginia, an area where I frequently go to write in peace, Prime two-day deliveries routinely take three or four days.
More Choice in Online Shopping Always Good for Consumers
What this means is that Amazon isn’t the all-powerful marketing force it is sometimes made out to be. The Google/Walmart teaming arrangement may well offer the majority of U.S. consumers a better and faster e-commerce experience than is available from Amazon. And once Google Express is set up so that it works with local Walmart stores, same-day deliveries will be available everywhere, as long as you don’t mind a drive to a store.
But there’s the other part of this announcement: voice shopping. Right now, Amazon is the only game in town when it comes to voice shopping, and that company seems to believe it’s the wave of the future. Now, it seems, so does Walmart.
“When it comes to voice shopping, we want to make it as easy as possible for our customers,” said Walmart President of eCommerce Marc Lore. “That’s why it makes sense for us to team up with Google. 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. An open and transparent shopping universe is good for customers.”
Free Delivery Now on Google Express
Google, for its part, is upping the ante by providing free shipping for all of Google Express.
“Starting today, we’re offering free delivery on Google Express, as long as your order is above each store’s minimum,” said Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google’s senior vice president for Ads and Commerce. “There’s no membership required, so no matter how you shop—through voice with your Google Assistant or on the website or mobile app—you’ll get free delivery within one to three days.”
This is a shot across Amazon’s bow for more than just voice shopping. Google Express already offers a wide range of products from a variety of vendors at prices that are competitive with Amazon. In addition, it provides fast, free shipping to places where Amazon doesn’t go.
Of course there are limits. Each vendor that works with Google Express can set a minimum price for free shipping, usually around $35, and that can provide an impediment in the competition with Amazon Prime. But it’s not as much of an impediment as it may seem at first. Many of the vendors that sell under the Prime banner jack up their prices to cover the shipping, but you won’t know that unless you do some comparisons.
Fortunately, comparisons are easy when you’re shopping online. This means that there will be a constant pressure to keep prices in line and to keep the convenience level up to snuff. That’s competition at its best.
But the new deal between Google and Walmart goes beyond just price competition. It can add significantly to the level of convenience for online shopping. Walmart’s ability to deliver products to a local store where they can be picked up with only a short warning provides instant gratification to those who need it. While Amazon can deliver in the same day in some areas, Walmart can do it everywhere.
Voice Shopping the Way of the Future?
Walmart also offers a new level of convenience when voice shopping arrives at the end of September. The site will remember your most commonly purchased items—whether you bought them online or in a store—and make them available by voice shopping. That way, when you tell Google Home to order milk, Walmart will know that you want a half-gallon of lactose-free 2 percent. It’s a nice feature to have when there are 30 kinds of milk from which to choose.
Right now, Amazon can’t deliver that level of customization for commonly purchased items. But there’s no question that it will. And when Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods is closed, it may have a way to provide fast order pick-ups. But there are a whole lot more Walmart stores than there are Whole Foods markets, so there’s still a gap.
There is still one question that remains to be answered: Whole Foods is one of the stores that is part of the Google Express network. Does this mean that you’ll be able to effectively order from Amazon through Google Express?
A possible conflict of interest? Could be.