5 Retailers Tapping Voice-Controlled Assistants for Frictionless Shopping

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If holiday sales are any indication, voice-controlled smart assistants are here to stay. With the Echo Dot smart speaker becoming the top-selling product of the holiday season on Amazon’s website, and the Google Home app breaking into the top 10 apps in the App Store around the same time, retailers are searching for new ways to make a splash and get in on the action.

From checking whether items are in-stock at local stores to getting step-by-step directions for putting together complicated products at home, consumers are using their voice-controlled devices to enhance the offline shopping experience, rather than detract from it. That growing reliance on devices like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home hasn’t gone unnoticed by retailers. According to a survey by Linc and BrandGarage, one-in-five retailers already believes voice will be an important channel within two years, and 44% of retailers that are increasing their use of AI say they’re doing so through conversational commerce interfaces, like Google Home, Amazon’s Alexa, and Facebook Messenger.

Here’s how five major retailers are harnessing the technology in voice-controlled smart assistants to leverage existing customer data and ultimately drive stronger relationships with shoppers.

1. Best Buy
Best Buy made headlines with the announcement that it would be selling limited categories of products through Amazon’s Alexa last year. Shoppers can both learn about products and purchase Best Buy’s Deal of the Day items through their smart assistants. Taking full advantage of the Best Buy skill, people shopping for televisions and laptops can answer a series of questions posed by Alexa—for example, telling Alexa what room the TV is going in—and receive personalized product recommendations based on their responses. Best Buy also integrated with the Google Assistant in Canada last fall, letting users find nearby store locations and learn more about products through their smart speakers.

2. Walmart
Walmart and Google teamed up on a project in August that allows Walmart customers to shop for more than 2 million items via Google Home and Google Express. To help the project gain momentum, Walmart started it off by offering coupons for future purchases when shoppers bought Google Home or Google Home Mini devices from Walmart. (The coupon could only be used on orders through Google Express.) Shopping becomes even easier when users link Google Home to their Walmart accounts, since doing so lets Google know the brand and size of the products (like shampoo or dog food) that a customer usually orders.

3. REI Co-op
With the REI Co-op skill, available through Amazon’s Alexa, shoppers can get details about REI’s discounted products, equipment rental information, classes, events, and physical store locations. For example, a user might say, “Alexa, ask REI what events are coming up,” and then, “Alexa, ask REI to find stores near me.” While many national retail chains consider voice-controlled devices to be a complement to their e-commerce efforts, REI is looking to utilize the technology in a way that still drives shoppers into its brick-and-mortar stores.

4. Home Depot
Home Depot shoppers have been able to make purchases hands-free since last fall, when the national retailer announced that it would be joining Google Express and adding the ability for customers to shop through the Assistant on Google Home. Shoppers searching for household items like light bulbs or screwdrivers can verbally place their orders with Home Depot using Google Home, and their purchases will be delivered via Google Express.

5. Target
Thanks to a partnership between Target and Google, Google Home users throughout the contiguous U.S. can shop for Target items through their voice devices or via the Google Express app and website. The retailer also has plans to allow shoppers to link their Target accounts to Google, much in the same way that Walmart has done, and to make its in-house credit and debit cards available as payment options with Google Express, which will allow shoppers to take advantage of the extra 5%-off and free shipping on orders placed through their voice-controlled devices.

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.