In one of the best scenes in Spinal Tap, lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel emphatically claims his guitar amp is better because it “Goes To 11”. This week Google and Walmart just took the conversational commerce “voice wars” to 11 by announcing a strategic partnership to integrate Walmart with Google Assistant (Google’s intelligent personal assistant) and Google Express (Google’s same day delivery service). Why is this important? Because conversational commerce is the next battleground for retail. Just like the internet and web browser upended traditional retail, conversational commerce will continue to dramatically transform how consumers shop. The Google / Walmart partnership is intended to thwart the growing threat of Amazon’s Alexa and Echo, which industry experts now claim have sold nearly 19 million units. The business benefits of having an Amazon-powered voice assistant the homes of consumers are clear - conversational commerce is about to hit mainstream and Amazon is well positioned to combine voice and digital shopping on one platform. In fact, research firm Walker Sands recent Future of Retail report claims that 19% of consumers have made a voice purchase through a digital home assistant like Echo or Google Home this year, and 33% of consumers expect to do so in the next year.
Walmart needed to make a move. In lieu of creating their own voice appliance and assistant (which I would argue they still need to do), there was really no other choice but to partner with Google. And that’s ok, for now. Walmart gets a foothold into the home on Google Home, and Google gains a major retailer for its local fulfillment service Google Express. To jumpstart the partnership, Google even eliminated its annual fee for the service, which will likely be the go-to service for the half of Americans who are not a Prime member.
Voice Is Coming To The Store
As consumer behavior changes and conversational commerce becomes expected, consumers will demand the same voice convenience when shopping in stores. This is guaranteed to happen, and proof can be seen with the mobile proliferation in-aisle; 77% of consumers use their mobile phone to shop while in stores. To think a conversational interface won't follow the same patterns as mobile is risky. Retailers need to bring conversational interfaces into the store, supporting both customers as well as associates. Without empowering associates with conversational computing, retailers run the risk of missing customer expectations and further diminishing the role of the store and associate.
Turn It Up To 11
This is not a time when retailers need to be passive. Those retailers that start early with testing conversational commerce have the advantage of learning how best to bring this new paradigm into their stores. Leading retailers should:
- Work with Theatro - Perhaps you expected me to say that. Regardless of the source of this blog post, it makes sense. Theatro offers a SaaS platform with zero risk to retailers to test how our Intelligent Personal Assistant can help retail associates and stores perform better.
- Rethink associate and customer engagement from a voice perspective - Don’t simply put a voice veneer over your existing processes. Rethink how your stores will operate with a voice interface. And anticipate how customers will use their own voice assistants in-aisle. Leverage Theatro to help strategically plan for this evolution of in-store engagement.
- Connect everything - Start now by exposing inventory visibility and other enterprise data across the chain. Build the foundation for an agile store, one that is data rich and driven with analytics rather than just intuition.
- Your brand is your voice - The issue with stores is not the merchandise or the format. It’s your brand. The store experience has hardly changed since the advent of the mall. Voice will become the new brand, and that brand will be increasingly portable and conversational. Don’t wait for Amazon to tell you what to do.
And you should heed the wise words of Spinal Tap’s David St. Hubbins (played by Michael McKean) who states; "I believe virtually everything I read, and I think that is what makes me more of a selective human than someone who doesn't believe anything.” If you believe anything, believe this blog post.
SVP Marketing, Theatro