By Udita Shukla
The retail world is abuzz with the recently announced collaboration between Walmart and Google to venture into the voice-activated shopping space. The technology will allow customers to shop for miscellaneous items via their Google Home smart speaker. The feature is slated to be launched in the United States for public use by late September this year.
Weaving new social fabric
The venture offers a win-win partnership for both parties involved; it will assist Google in expanding and consolidating the market penetration for its product, Google Home, while Walmart seeks to capture the market against its formidable competitor, Amazon (which presently leverages its own Echo smart speaker) in the online retail space.
On the other end, the announcement reflects the changing dynamics of consumer preferences behaviour in the shopping space. According to Marc Lore, the chief executive of Walmart, the move is a business prerequisite as a voice-based shopping feature is steadily catching up with people. That said, the consumer demand is increasingly getting tilted from the manual to the automated. The social fabric is, perhaps, slowly and steadily moulding itself to adjust to the upcoming automation renaissance in data and digitisation.
A unique partnership
The choice of Google as the tech partner is easily justified by the advanced artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing capabilities it possesses. Google Home already offers voice-shopping to its users from over forty retailers like Costco and Target. However, it still lags behind Amazon’s Echo which was launched in 2014.
Walmart stores are spread across the globe, which presents a substantial competitive advantage to the company. Hence, other retail players might follow suit on similar strategies with more refined features to pass on benefits to the end consumer. Although the market is ablaze with words of caution directed towards Amazon to revamp its voice-based shopping features for the better, there have been no comments from the online shopping ‘king’ to date.
The business collaboration between a software giant like Google and a retail conglomerate Walmart is unique in more ways than one. Firstly, it opens a gateway to an uncharted territory of enhanced buyer-seller relationships, where the buyer is empowered to pick and choose from the comfort of her home without the need to comb through lists on a website. Secondly, this is another channel of customer retention, capitalising on the ever-growing need for time-management from the consumer’s perspective. Moreover, the retail segment of the market had previously been associated with fairly nascent technologies like inventory management software, supply chain, and value chain management. An amalgamation of two (seemingly) completely different entities sounds almost ominous, akin to the hyperconnected world which futurologists have long been ranting about.
Making tech dreams a reality?
Unlike a few decades ago, it no more sounds reckless or unrealistic to dream of a day when one might see fully-matured robots stationed at convenience stores, healthcare clinics, or airports, at one’s beck and call. This would definitely be preferred over the regular shopping experience of searching, browsing, and manually walking over to respective sections to retrieve the items on a shopping list. Consequently, a voice-based retail scenario seems both thrilling and promising. Further, it has the potential to metamorphose the sector into a more matured system of automated commodity and goods exchange.
The present generation is witnessing a burgeoning infrastructure of automation and connectivity, as artificially intelligent and deep-learning algorithms penetrate the most personal aspects of our lives. It is a reality that has now become as inescapable as it is necessary.
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