Walmart advances on voice tech in ongoing innovation drive

Walmart's voice order technology is now available with Siri, as it continues to expand its tech playbook.
14 November 2019

Customers of Walmart can now have Siri as their shopping assistant. Source: Shutterstock

Walmart is somewhat of a champion of retail innovation currently. The supermarket giant holds the crown as not only the largest retailer worldwide, but the third-largest e-commerce firm in the US, behind Amazon and eBay.

Far from content with that ranking, the firm has been aggressive in its investment into new technology, experimenting with VR, securing blockchain patents, even piloting autonomous grocery deliveries.

The company’s purchase of Yihaodian, a B2C-based e-commerce company in China, was an initial mark of Walmart’s dive in building digital competence. The acquisition of followed, with Walmart warming up its engines before venturing further into the application of emerging tech across all aspects of the business, from operations, store management, to supply chain. 

Walmart has invested in virtual reality (VR) technology to train associates in three significant areas such as new technology, compliance, and soft skills such as empathy and customer service– it was an innovative and experimental approach to plunging employees in to ‘real-life’ scenarios to build confidence and experience. The company has also turned this tech to the recruitment process, vetting potential managers on their ability dealing with angry customers.

Some of its most recent efforts have been in bolstering its e-commerce platform and pricing strategy to continue piling the pressure on its online-native frontrunners. Other initiatives have included integration blockchain into for supply chain tracking, and a partnership with Ford and delivery service Postmates to advance food delivery services with autonomous vehicles.

All this speaks to the Walmart leadership team’s ability to onboard technology that some might consider ‘novel’ and find real, practical use cases for it. With that in mind, we should pay close attention to its progress with voice technology– something that has, for several years now, been tipped to be ‘the next big thing’.

Grocery shopping with voice command

Having introduced Walmart Voice Order, allowing shoppers to add items to their Walmart Online Grocery Cart with voice command, the firm has now partnered with Apple to expand its service’s reach by making Walmart Voice Order available on Siri. 

Customers can start adding items directly into their virtual carts with the help of Siri after pairing their accounts; “Customers build out their basket by just saying ‘Add to Walmart’ and then naming the product they want to add to their cart. We built Walmart Voice Order with customers in mind. We designed the entire experience for voice shopping to help save time,” Walmart stated on its blog

Along with the ability to build a shopping list, artificial intelligence (AI) is incorporated with the service as well. The more customers use voice-based technology, the better it will respond in the next order. For example, when a shopper asks Siri to add “orange juice”, it might add a specific brand and type such as “Great Value organic juice with no pulp,” based on past purchases. Therefore, the more times a shopper uses the device, the more familiar the system will be of the shopper’s preference

Voice-based technology on the rise 

There has been an increase of voice-based technology adopted and developed for multiple purposes across global brands, albeit a steady one. Just last month, for example, McDonald’s released a voice-initiated job application process that works on Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant.

The announcements allude to the potential of voice-based technology in delivering a unique user experience, which may transform the way we interact with technology. It also shows signs of confidence in the technology which has been slower to find its place in mainstream usage. 

survey by PWC showed 90 percent of Americans are familiar with the technology and 72 percent have used it, but the adoption is primarily driven by younger groups, households with children and families living with an income below US$100,000.

Even though younger consumers are the biggest users, though, they may not necessarily be such frequent ones. Statistics showed that users aged 25 years and below are less likely to use voice-based technology. However, individuals aged 25 to 49 are using it more often. 

With more than half (57 percent) of users initiating voice technology with their smartphones and a third (29 percent) using voice technology in their tablets and laptops, the uptake is certainly there for clever applications of the technology that provide real value and convenience– we’ll see if Walmart is the company to achieve it.