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In what the New York Times describes as a “testament to the mutual threat” that they face from Amazon, Walmart and Google are teaming up. Walmart products now will be available to people using the Google Express shopping platform, the first time that Walmart has made its products available in the US outside the walls of its own stores or beyond its own websites.

According to the Times, “The two companies said the partnership was less about how online shopping is done today, but where it is going in the future. They said that they foresaw Walmart customers reordering items they purchased in the past by speaking to Google Home, the company’s voice-controlled speaker and an answer to Amazon’s Echo. Walmart customers can also shop using the Google Assistant, the artificially intelligent software assistant found in smartphones running Google’s Android software.”

Walmart has thrown a lot of money and effort at its e-commerce business over the past year, primarily through its acquisition of Jet and integration of that online retailer’s pricing algorithms into its own site. It also has bought a number of smaller e-tailers, tested a number of delivery options, and has been rolling out click-and-collect services around the country. While Walmart’s total sales remain are much higher than Amazon’s, it has struggled to steal momentum from Amazon in the e-commerce realm, and now is facing potential implications from Amazon’s move into bricks-and-mortar with its proposed $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods.

Meanwhile, the Times writes that “Google is a laggard in e-commerce. Since starting a shopping service in 2013, it has struggled to gather significant momentum. Initially, it offered free same-day delivery before scrapping it. It also tried delivery of groceries before abandoning that, too.

“If Amazon is a department store with just about everything inside, then Google Express is a shopping mall populated by different retailers. There are more than 50 retailers on Google Express, including Target and Costco. Inside Google Express, a search for ‘toothpaste’ will bring back options from about a dozen different retailers.” Google also has created a free shipping program that mimics Amazon Prime, but, like Walmart, it has struggled to slow Amazon’s momentum.

Marc Lore, who runs Walmart’s US e-commerce business, says, “We are trying to help customers shop in ways that they may have never imagined.”
KC's View:
Well, in ways they’ve never imagined … unless, of course, they’ve shopped on Amazon using tools such as the Alexa/Echo system. If they have, maybe the Walmart-Google offering won’t seem quite so revolutionary.

But I don’t want to minimize the importance of the Walmart-Google deal. The fact is, effective coalitions that are both relevant and resonant to the shopper can, in fact, be game changers.

I have to wonder if this could be more problematic for Google, though. If you go on the Google Express site, there are a lot of retailers listed as being partners, including Costco, PetSmart, Bed Bath & Beyond, Stop & Shop, and Walgreens - and the vast majority of them compete with Walmart. (And each other.) This creates a kind of level playing field, which is not what Walmart really needs at this point … what it really needs is a differential online advantage.

I’ll be interested to see the degree to which Google and Walmart use this new relationship to create some marketing buzz … it can’t just be an August press release followed by online implementation. I think they’ve got to create the impression/illusion that this is what Tom Furphy and I call a “big swing” - a move that changes shoppers’ lives, and does so more effectively than Amazon.