I’m not one to get excited about sporting rivalries, but I do get excited about grocery rivalries. And Amazon V. Walmart is shaking out to be the matchup of the decade.
Today Walmart made moves to challenge Amazon in the game of voice-controlled grocery ordering by announcing Walmart Voice Order. It’s a new voice-ordering capability the company is launching with Google. Starting this month, you can tell your Google Assistant (or Android or Google Smart Display) something like, “Hey Google, talk to Walmart” and then list grocery items you’d like to add to your cart. This function just keeps track of what items you want to order, though; to actually purchase them, you’ll have to give Google specific instructions to do so (though the release didn’t specify what those instructions would be).
Interestingly, Walmart actually partnered with Google Express, Google’s online shopping tool, two years ago. However, they broke off the partnership in January of this year, presumably to make way for this new voice platform.
One cool thing is that the new service will remember your frequently ordered items. So, for example, if you have a specific brand of plant-based Greek yogurt you like, you can simply say “Add yogurt to my cart” and Google will know which brand you’re talking about.
The added step of saying “Hey Google, talk to Walmart” is a little annoying, especially considering you can just say “Alexa, order yogurt” to get it directly through Whole Foods, or “Alexa, add yogurt to my shopping list” to save it for later.
The extra step of saying “Hey Google, talk to Walmart” may be a minor annoyance, but it does leave more opportunities for the voice assistant to get confused or mishear you. However, small UI nuances like that likely won’t give Walmart or Amazon an edge in the voice-ordering grocery game. Instead, it seems like the voice victor decider will come down to one thing: whether or not you have Alexa. Walmart might partner with other voice-ordering services down the road, like the Microsoft Cortana, but Alexa is likely off-limits since Amazon and Walmart compete so closely.
This could end up being a big disadvantage for Walmart simply due to Alexa’s sheer reach. Amazon owns 66 percent of the smart speaker market, according to eMarketer. And all those Alexa’s aren’t going to sell you Greek yogurt from just anywhere — they’ll push you towards Whole Foods. Which means that Amazon has a captive audience of consumers who it can easily nudge towards its own grocery purveyor, leaving Walmart out in the cold.
As of now, voice ordering still isn’t a huge sales channel for grocery. In fact, only 16 percent of Americans even order their groceries online, period. But as our world grows more connected voice technology becomes more integral in our day-to-day life, I imagine that will change. Maybe someday people will even choose to buy a Google Assistant or Alexa based off of whether they prefer shopping at Walmart or Whole Foods.
According to TechCrunch, Walmart’s Google voice shopping for in-store pickup will be offered at more than 2,100 Walmart stores and for online delivery at over 800 stores.
The Walmart news came just hours after Amazon announced a new wave of price cuts at Whole Foods in an attempt to make the natural grocery outlet more wallet friendly. By cutting costs, they’re hoping to do away with their nickname of ‘Whole Paycheck’ and attract a wider swath of consumers — including ones who tend to shop at more budget grocery chains, like, ya know, Walmart.