Walmart: Let’s Talk Groceries

Last week Walmart announced an easy way for shoppers to order groceries – using voice commands. The partnership is with any device the features Google Assistant, including Google Home, Android devices, and iPhones, with “other platforms” coming next (Amazon’s Alexa?). The decision to partner with Google makes since not just because of Walmart’s ongoing battle with Amazon, but because 12.6% of Google Home owners already order groceries via voice, compared to 4.6% of Alexa owners.

To use this new feature, consumers must first link their existing Walmart accounts to their Google Home account and select their default pickup store (or let Google do it, and have it find the closest store to a user’s registered address). Shoppers can initiate their order by saying “Okay Google, talk to Walmart.” Then they can add items to their cart, which can take occur over different shopping sessions.  Tom Ward, Senior Vice President of Digital Operations said, “We know when using voice technology, customers like to add items to their cart one at a time over a few days – not complete their shopping for the week all at once. So, this capability aligns with the way customers shop.” Shoppers must still pickup their orders at the store, but delivery options are likely forthcoming.

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Walmart announced that while the new voice shopping feature can service both new and existing consumers, it was initially designed as a loyalty play for existing consumers. “If a customer says ‘add milk to my cart’ we’ll make sure to add the specific milk the customer buys regularly. Instead of saying ‘1 gallon of 1% Great Value organic milk,’ they’ll simply say one word: ‘milk.’” said Ward.  By using shopping history and purchase data for its registered customers, Walmart would remove a major pain point involved in voice-based shopping: defining your exact product in any given category (have you see the toothpaste aisle lately?).

This play by Walmart could be foreshadowing an industry wave of voice-based shopping. According to RetailMeNot’s 2019 Retailer Playbook, 74% of senior retail marketers said that shopping on smart speakers would be a main form of shopping within 3 year – but that percentage jumped to 93% for retailers with more than $1 billion in annual revenue.

What other retailers, not just grocers, can take away from Walmart’s initiative are the capabilities for shopping list creation and product reordering. MarketingLand suggests three points to make this feasible. First, companies must ensure that the service is multi-platform, so users can shop on an Assistant device, phone, or tablet. Second, companies pioneering the service must target existing shoppers to remove user uncertainty, as the service will know which product to buy. Finally, keeping the process as simple as possible to reinforce repeat shopping sessions, and ultimately customer loyalty.


From a marketing management perspective, here are some questions to consider:

  • You’re a marketing manager of “conversational commerce” at Amazon. How do you respond to this announcement?
  • Since groceries make up more than half of Walmart’s annual sales and revenues, what should Walmart do next with its Google partnership to encourage higher average order values as well as more frequent deliveries or trips to the store?