In these early days of voice commerce there's still room for two retail giants in the space, experts say
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is not letting Amazon.com Inc. run away with the growing voice-commerce market, jumping on Wednesday's Google device announcement with a $25 discount for users who purchase their device from Wal-Mart, place an order with the retailer and link their Wal-Mart account to Google Express.
According to the latest data from Accenture, 89% of shoppers in 2017 are familiar with Alexa, while 77% are familiar with Google Home. Nearly three-quarters (71%) of shoppers are using or would like to use Alexa, while 68% responded in kind about Google Home.
Experts argue that it's still early days for voice commerce, so even if there has been buzz around Alexa and the Echo products, there is room for others.
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"Owning the home is an emerging strategy," said Kathy Gersch executive vice president of strategy execution and change management at Kotter International, a business management consulting firm.
Amazon (AMZN) used its summertime Prime Day event (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/amazon-is-gearing-up-to-take-the-lead-in-voice-commerce-2017-07-14) to push Alexa-enabled devices, staking its claim on the voice-commerce space. Last week, the e-commerce giant launched a number of new Echo devices (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/amazon-launches-new-echo-and-fire-tv-devices-2017-09-27) at varying price points.
In August, Wal-Mart (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/wal-mart-google-team-up-to-battle-amazon-2017-08-23)(WMT) announced (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/wal-mart-google-team-up-to-battle-amazon-2017-08-23) its voice-shopping partnership with Google (GOOGL). Experts say that the partnership elevates the challenge for Amazon and Alexa.
"The industry has been waiting for sellers and technologists to map out a path to compete with the Amazon juggernaut and the rise of Alexa," said Jennifer Sherman, senior vice president of product and strategy at Kibo, an omnichannel commerce software company. "With this move Wal-Mart has unlocked voice-based commerce on devices that already enjoy greater penetration than the Echo, the smartphone.
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"Now, with this new development from Wal-Mart, the question for retailers and brands is how they can make their offering discoverable and differentiate themselves in the rapidly increasing voice-first environment," said Sherman.
Matt Sargent, senior vice president of retail at consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates, questions whether the Wal-Mart customer would be interested in voice commerce, though he believes Wal-Mart is targeting more than its typical customer.
"Wal-Mart wants to change, doesn't want to serve that same customer base it always has," he said. Acquisitions like Jet.com and Bonobos show that it is trying to change its brand image.
Prathap Dendi, general manager of business performance monitoring and analytics at AppDynamics, an application intelligence company, agrees voice commerce might not be for everyone.
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Still, he sees some advantages in grocery, an area where Wal-Mart is "King" and already caters to a demographic that has an interest in picking up groceries "on the way home."
"Once you unlock millions of bricks-and-mortar consumers with the omnipresent ability of Google... they can take over," he said.
In this area, Wal-Mart's click-and-collect capabilities could come in handy.
"We know that 78% of consumers have used buy-online-pickup-in-stores (BOPIS) in the past six months, so having that option available right now for Walmart shoppers--especially for grocery products--will be a key differentiator," said Kibo's chief marketing officer Tushar Patel.
Ryne Misso, director of marketing at Market Track, also notes the seemingly speedier decision making at Wal-Mart, which he says is a big takeaway from its Google partnership.
"What we know about Amazon is, despite their size, they tend to be very fast to fill these holes," Misso said, calling that an "underrated element to competing with Amazon."
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"This enables both Google and Wal-Mart to have access to resources that neither had access to standing on their own," he said of the partnership.
Google also has partnerships with other companies including Home Depot Inc. (HD) and Panera Bread Co., which announced Wednesday that members in St. Louis and Silicon Valley can order and pay using Google Assistant.
Wal-Mart shares are up 14.2% for the year so far, while Amazon shares are up 32.4% for the period and Alphabet Inc. shares are up 25.3%. The S&P 500 index has gained 13.7% for 2017 so far and the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 15.2%.