Walmart is piloting a shop-to-text technology in select areas including Northwest Arkansas. The retailer said it is learning about when and how customers prefer to use a conversational shopping experience. Walmart plans to make text-to-shop more widely available.
“By understanding our customers’ preferences, we also solve the paradox of choice and save them time by serving up what we know they love best,” Dominique Essig, vice president of conversational commerce, said in a corporate blog post. “Most importantly, we offer Walmart customers the opportunity to shop no matter where they are, and to communicate naturally by simply asking for what they want, any way they want.”
This is not Walmart’s first time to test text-commerce. The now-defunct JetBlack concierge shopping service experiment in Manhattan also allowed members to text their needs to the retailer, who then responded by text.
Essig said Walmart is positioning text-to-shop as a step forward in its voice-activated shopping offering. Walmart launched a partnership in 2017 with Google for voice-activated shopping via Google or Apple voice devices. The customer’s voice command opens the Walmart app and then adds their preferred version of a product to the cart.
“The advantage of conversational commerce is that customers can communicate with Walmart the way they communicate with friends and family,” Essig said.
Analysts have said Walmart and shoppers in general have been slow to adopt voice commerce options in part because the voice technology is still far from perfect. Text seems to be a logical next step as mobile devices have become more essential in the average consumer’s shopping trips.
While Walmart introduced voice-activated and text-to-shop in pilot form as a counter to Amazon’s success with Alexa, there is one main difference, according to Scott Benedict, director of retail studies at Texas A&M University.
“Amazon owns the entire experience for those who use Alexa. Walmart does not, as it partners with Google and Apple to accomplish the same task,” he said.
Benedict said Walmart has to test and retest the emerging technologies because no one knows which ones will hold the most promise in the future. He said there was a time when Walmart might have waited to get into the game, but those days have long passed.
“Walmart and other retailers have to pursue all the technology options available. They have no choice,” he said.