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AMZN vs WMT Weekly: Cashierless Race Picks Up And Alexa Gets New Features

Walmart this week began testing an all-self-checkout retail location in Plano, Texas, as it tries to keep step with Amazon’s cashierless store ambitions amid an industry-wide labor shortage.

The Texas location isn’t Walmart’s first foray into the all-self-checkout space — the company opened its first cashierless superstore in its home state of Arkansas — but Plano is over three times as big a market as Fayetteville, Arkansas, making this an important test of the initiative.

Walmart’s move follows Amazon’s introduction last month of its first full-size Amazon Fresh grocery store with the company’s “Just Walk Out” cashierless checkout technology after using the technology at smaller locations in the U.K. and U.S. The Amazon Fresh store is located in Bellevue, Washington, just outside of the company’s hometown of Seattle.

Amazon has expanded the use of its Just Walk Out technology to other retailers, including airport convenience retailer Hudson, and offered it to Walmart and Target at the onset of the pandemic, though neither indicated interest. Perhaps unsurprising, as Walmart has gone so far as to resist using Amazon’s cloud computing services in order to keep the competitor at bay.

Alexa, Get An Upgrade

Ahead of newly-minted CEO Andy Jassy’s first earnings report next week, Amazon is rolling out new features and tools on Alexa for third-party voice app developers, its largest release of new tools to date as it attempts to drive more growth and engagement of the voice assistant.

Among the new features are “Alexa Shopping Actions,” which allows app developers and merchants to sell products from Amazon in their skill. Amazon is also bringing its Amazon Associates affiliate marketing program to Alexa, which will allow app developers to earn a commission on qualifying product referrals; and introducing “Paid Skills” through which consumers will pay a one-time fee to access content in a skill.

Jeff Blankenburg, Amazon’s technology evangelist for Alexa, said in a blog post that the company’s vision for Alexa is for her to be “proactive, personal and predictable, everywhere customers want her to be.”

“It’s our long-term vision, which means there’s a lot of work to be done to make this a reality,” Blankenburg wrote.

Part of that work includes getting consumers to actually use Alexa to shop. According to PYMNTS research, approximately one-third of consumers own a voice assistant device but only about 7 percent of them have used voice assistants to make purchases while shopping for groceries and retail products. Still, that’s a 45 percent increase in consumers buying things with voice assistants since 2018.

More Wine Selection

Walmart is adding to its Winemakers Selection label with a new Reserve Series, showcasing five premium wine varietals from some of the world’s most prominent growing regions. Among the $10 per bottle selections are California Cabernet Sauvignon, French Rosé and Italian Pinot Grigio.

The Winemakers Selection Reserve Series is available in brick-and-mortar Walmart locations across the country, as well as for delivery and grocery pickup where local and state laws allow. The Winemakers Selection label first debuted to shoppers in 2018.

The move could be an attempt to bolster Walmart’s hold on grocery sales, which it has shown concern about in recent months. While Walmart has a 10-to-1 advantage over Amazon in grocery, a leaked memo from February shows that the box-store giant is concerned about the increasingly competitive space and declining market share.

But while grocery is an important area for Walmart — the retailer is largely dependent on grocery sales to boost its top line — the battle for consumer wallets will still be fought and won on retail, where Amazon has been gaining ground for several years. According to PYMNTS analysis, as of the first quarter, Amazon accounts for 9.1 percent of consumer retail spend and 3.5 percent of consumer spend, and the company will likely take the mantle as America’s largest retailer next year.

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