How Walmart’s Innovation Lab Thinks About Voice AI and Conversational Commerce
Walmart sees a big future for voice AI in its business, according to Dominique Essig, the conversational commerce vice president for Walmart’s Store Nº8 incubation division. She expounded on the philosophy behind the investment in the field to Google Assistant Developer Platform director of product management Rebecca Nathenson for the most recent episode of Modev’s VOICE Talks Presented by Google Assistant.
The show focused on the impact of conversational AI on e-commerce as this month’s theme, with Essig’s interview as the centerpiece. Nathenson discussed several facets of Walmart’s working voice AI and what might come out of Store Nº8 and integrate with Walmart’s other platforms. Essig joined Store Nº8 from its Jetblack, its first portfolio company. The members-only personal shopping service shut down last year, but Store Nº8 has continued to broaden its research and development scope into fields like virtual reality, data analytics, and healthcare tech.
In her interview, Essig outlined how she and her conversational commerce team consider the various benefits of voice AI for improving shopping. They look at how the tech can save time, simplify the sometimes overwhelming number of products available, be accessible from anywhere, and enable natural communication with a virtual assistant.
“We’ve found that customers really enjoy talking to brands. Our conversational commerce team is focused on how we build conversational capabilities so that Walmart customers can talk to us, to save time and to live better,” Essig said. “I’m incredibly excited about voice commerce and how it can enable and help our families.
Walmart has been experimenting with different ways of implementing voice AI for a few years, both internally and through partnerships and subsidiaries. The company implemented direct ordering through Google Home devices in 2017 before switching to Google Assistant integration in 2019. Integration with Siri quickly followed. The company has also begun trying out voice AI for use by its employees. The Ask Sam voice app released last year answers questions for employees looking for information on product prices and locations, including maps. It also pushed updated on policy changes and emergencies from the company’s leadership. Notably, the biggest voice AI success for Walmart is with its Indian e-commerce subsidiary Flipkart. Flipkart has had quite a lot of success with voice search in both English and Hindi, although the tech was developed in-house and not as part of Walmart’s overall R&D efforts. Essig expects that kind of growth in voice commerce to be universal, with some experts estimating that 30% of all e-commerce revenue will come from voice shopping in 2030.
“Our mission is really simple. Build conversational experiences that enable our customers to talk to Walmart anywhere or anytime so they can shop and get the things that they need,” Essig said. “The power of voice, of just asking for what you need, is really quite important for our