How Walmart Builds Conversational Shopping To Create Innovative Customer Experiences

Jan. 24, 2022

4 Min. Read
Illustration of customer texting Walmart.com

Desirée Gosby is the Vice President of Emerging Technologies within Walmart Global Tech. Dominique Essig is the Vice President of Conversational Commerce, a portfolio company within Store No8, the incubation arm of Walmart.

Transforming the future of retail and commerce takes bold vision, shared mission, dedication to purpose and strong collaboration. That is exactly how Walmart’s Store No8 and Global Tech teams worked together to incubate, design and build new voice and text shopping experiences that will enhance how customers interact with Walmart.

We started this journey in 2017. Since that time, we have created new voice shopping experiences for smart device users, and recently, we launched a public beta for Text to Shop as well. Now, we’re excited to share how some of our most recent innovations were co-created by our teams.

The Voice Shopping Journey

Smart devices — phones and connected speakers — have fundamentally changed the way people interact with brands. At the same time, conversational commerce — speaking or texting to shop via smart phones and devices — has increased significantly, based on the ease of use and simple interface that saves people significant time. Considering this, we knew there was an opportunity to design innovative experiences that would make it easier than ever to shop with Walmart.

To begin testing this idea, we built a Conversational Commerce portfolio company within Store No8, the incubation arm of Walmart. The vision — to develop voice and text shopping capabilities with the purpose of saving customers time. To do this well, we designed Walmart’s conversational shopping experiences to meet customers where they are — meaning on their preferred devices — and to communicate naturally, by allowing customers to simply ask for what they want, any way they want.

To start, the team focused on voice-based commerce, conducting research that helped identify customer preferences to engage with voice capabilities when they’re multi-tasking or their hands are full. Think of the last time you were making pasta for dinner and realized you were nearly out of sauce. Then consider how easy it would be to simply ask your smart phone or speaker to add more pasta sauce to your Walmart cart, the moment you realize you’re low. Once your cart is full, you schedule grocery delivery or pickup using the same voice shopping experience. This is just one of many real-world scenarios we considered while working with Walmart customers to design voice shopping.

Launching capabilities like this for Walmart requires strong collaboration between experts in conversational design, product management, software engineering, data science and more. To ensure we are building the best voice shopping experience for our customers,
Store No8 and Walmart’s Global Tech organization work in close partnership. Together, we built the voice shopping experience using Global Tech’s proprietary conversational platform. Three patents have been granted and 22 are pending in developing this innovative platform, which also solves for natural language understanding (NLU) by leveraging Walmart’s data. This was an important step, as it meant that we could offer voice shopping to all Walmart customers.

We developed external partnerships with Apple and Google, to ensure Walmart customers could shop using their smart devices. To refine the shopping experience using both the Siri and Google Assistant platforms, we led several product pilots to garner real-world feedback from customers like you. Voice shopping is now available on both platforms, and we continue to look for new ways to enhance these shopping experiences.

The Text Shopping Journey

In 2018, Store No8 launched Jet Black, its first portfolio company, which offered a personal shopping experience leveraging SMS for New York City-based customers looking for items from a variety of retailers. At that time, text-based experiences were rapidly evolving and launching. In early 2020, we decided to apply the learnings from Jet Black and pivot to launch a text shopping capability designed to serve all Walmart customers. Our conversational commerce team began working on Text to Shop (TTS), which included rich messaging capabilities (RCS and Apple Business Messaging) so that Walmart customers can shop, schedule grocery delivery or pickup and checkout — all via text message from their local supercenter.

This innovative journey happened quickly. Our Walmart Conversational Commerce team was formed in February 2020, and our public beta Text to Shop launched in March 2021, just 13 months after our pivot. The process included multiple private betas, working with Walmart customers to garner feedback and iterating on the customer experience.

The speed of this work was possible due to a shared mission between Store No8 and Global Tech, and the collaborative working style our teams take when developing new capabilities at scale. Today, we’re running a public beta with Walmart customers to enable us to design amazing text shopping experiences for our customers. To learn more, visit texttoshop.walmart.com.

So, what’s next for conversational commerce at Walmart? We can’t quite say — but we’re dedicated to our vision, mission and purpose. And with the close collaboration between our teams, we’re excited to continuously build innovative shopping experiences for Walmart customers.

Learn More About Walmart’s Conversational Shopping Experiences