American grocery titan Walmart has joined forces with Google to allow shoppers to order hundreds of its products through voice, both online and in-store.

The supermarket chain’s new partnership will see a swathe of its products available to order through voice-activated Google Assistant, either on a smartphone or via a Google Home device.

The tie-up will be the largest retail partnership on the online giant’s platform to date, and will be available for shoppers in the US to use next month.

Shoppers who link their Walmart account to Google Express, the online titan’s ecommerce marketplace, will also receive personalised offers based on their previous purchases.

The grocery group is also rolling out the partnership across 4,700 of its US stores and fulfilment network.

Walmart’s ecommerce boss Marc Lore said in a blog post that this bricks-and-mortar link with Google Assistant would “create customer experiences that don’t currently exist within voice shopping anywhere else, including choosing to pick up an order in-store (often for a discount) or using voice shopping to purchase fresh groceries across the country”.

Expert analysis

  • Yet another Amazon-focused initiative from Walmart – following on from recent examples like the Uber delivery partnership expansion and Easy Reorder.
  • With some 24 millon new voice devices expected to be sold this year, Walmart is compelled to establish a presence in a disruptive growth channel, especially as Amazon Echo currently dominates the voice-ordering space (forecast to reach 70% of all devices this year).
  • This is the start of a greater partnership, with Walmart planning to introduce grocery ordering and pickup from US stores next year. This will deliver a competitive advantage over Amazon, while it integrates Whole Foods.
  • Walmart’s is unlikely to feature in the short term, given the complexity of its model, which is focused on offering flexible pricing dependent on a range of payment, purchase and delivery options.
  • Google abandoning its subscription fee suggests to us it is fully committed to making this – and its many other – retailer collaborations work versus Amazon. For Google, it offers a chance to gain background in the search space from Amazon. Last year, a Bloomreach survey showed 55% of all shopper searches began on Amazon.
  • We already see Google leveraging its core search and diary, calendar and other productivity features to make its voice assistant more ‘intelligent’ than Amazon’s. This will also provide Walmart with voice development advantages when it comes to personalising experiences - although the Amazon has built up a larger set of partners to develop compatible Alexa ‘skills’ than Google. The tie-up will also ensure Walmart appears as high up in Google Express shopping search results as possible.

Miya Knights is Planet Retail RNG’s global retail technology director and Robert Gregory is global research director

This development is the latest in Amazon and Google’s ongoing battle for dominance in the artificial-intelligence-based voice shopping market, which saw the former roll out same-day delivery for Prime members ordering via an Echo device in March.

Lore acknowledged this competition in his blog post, which said: “[Google] have 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.”