Target is jumping into voice-activated shopping as it deepens its relationship with Google, offering thousands of items found in the store except for perishables like fruit and milk.
The move is happening as Google says shopping will be available later this year through Google Assistant on iPhone and Android phones, joining its Google Home device and Android TV. So shoppers can shout out orders to their phone while they're running around doing errands or just walking.
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Target Corp. joins Walmart and Home Depot among others in partnering with Google on voice shopping as they seek to compete against Amazon's dominance with its Echo devices. Amazon started offering Echo voice assistants in late 2014, while Google made its debut with Google Home earlier this year.
Target is also expanding nationwide its Google Express program that offers faster delivery from a test program in New York City and California. Shoppers will be able to get deliveries within two days since the items will be shipped to a nearby Target store for free provided the purchase meets the $35 order minimum. Next year, Target shoppers will be able to pick up their online purchases at a Target store where orders are ready in two hours as part of the Google Express program. They'll also be able to use Target's loyalty card as an option for Google Express shoppers, giving them such benefits as a 5 percent discount off most purchases.
Like many retailers, Target has been offering more shopping options. This past summer, for example, the Minneapolis discounter began expanding its next-day essentials delivery service that it was testing to the Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C./Baltimore areas.
"We have lots of different choices of how they buy from us," said Mike McNamara, Target's chief information and digital officer. He believes that voice shopping will be more prevalent in the next few years.
More devices are in the hands of shoppers. Even Apple has one coming out this year. But the key is personalizing the order so if a consumer shouts out "detergent," the voice assistant will know the exact brand that the shopper wants. Target says that it will give customers the option to link their accounts with Google Express for more personalized shopping. In fact, Walmart, which went live with voice shopping last week, is integrating its easy reorder feature — which has data on both store and online purchases — into Google Express. Shoppers who want to reorder their favorites have to link their Walmart account to Google Express.
Amazon doesn't give sales figures for Echo, but Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimated that the Seattle company has sold more than 10 million Alexa-powered Echo devices in the U.S. since late 2014. That includes the core Echo, as well as the less expensive and smaller Echo Dot and the portable Amazon Tap. According to Forrester Research, 12 percent of shoppers own some voice device like Echo or Google Home. And 29 percent of them use the device for some shopping, Forrester says.
To be more competitive with Amazon, Google Express scrapped the $95-a-year membership in August, allowing shoppers to get free delivery on orders within one to three days, as long as the purchase is above each store's minimum.
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