“OK Google, order Archer Farms trail mix.”
Shoppers are now able to make their Target runs by saying such commands out loud while using Google’s voice assistant — either through a Google Home device or, soon, through a smartphone.
The Minneapolis-based retailer announced the voice-assisted shopping capability with Google on Thursday and said it would expand its partnership with shopping and delivery service Google Express across the continental U.S. after testing it the last few years in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.
Target, like other retailers, is playing catch-up to Amazon, which enabled voice shopping from its Echo devices by talking to Alexa, its assistant, more than two years ago.
Meanwhile, a number of retailers such as Costco, Walgreens and PetSmart joined forces with Google shortly after it added voice shopping as a feature to its Google Home device earlier this year. In recent weeks, Walmart and Home Depot have announced similar partnerships.
“Voice is becoming an increasingly important way for people to search the internet, and it will become a more and more important means for them to shop,” Mike McNamara, Target’s chief digital and information officer, said in an interview.
He pointed to studies showing that 20 percent of mobile searches already are happening through voice. So while voice shopping may still be in its infancy, it’s poised to take off and will be an important channel for Target within the next three to five years, he said.
Some analysts are more circumspect, saying that the number of people using this technology to shop in the next few years will likely remain small, even for Amazon.
“We’ll see if it grows like they think it will,” said Brian Yarbrough, an analyst with Edward Jones. “I’m just not convinced it’s going to be the next big thing.”
Still, he said it’s smart for Target to add the new technology since investors are enamored of anything digital amid the seismic shifts traditional retailers are facing.
“It shows they’re not getting left behind,” he said. “They’re making the investments and partnerships.”
In the voice-controlled speakers industry, Google Home is in second place with about 24 percent market share, compared to Amazon’s Echo devices with 76 percent, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners.
But McNamara noted Google also announced on Thursday that it will soon be bringing its voice assistant to eligible Android phones and iPhones.
“Google is the best out there in voice when you look at how they’re going to have voice enablement in more people’s homes than anybody else,” he said.
In using Google’s voice assistant and Google Express, shoppers will be able to shop for about 100,000 items from Target with the exception, for now, of perishable food. Shoppers complete the purchase through the Google Home or Google Express app. The orders are filled at local Target stores, and Google’s fleet of drivers delivers the goods to customers’ doorsteps two days later.
The average delivery time on most orders from Target.com is two to four days. Just like on Target.com, delivery is free for orders of more than $35.
In New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco, same-day delivery is also an option through Google Express.
In recent years, Target has been more interested in building out its own digital capabilities than depending on outside partners. But the retailer made an exception for Google in recognition of the fact that most of its online orders don’t start on Target.com, but as online searches, often from Google.
“So this is a bit like building your store in the right place,” McNamara said. “Google has the best digital real estate out there, and now Target has a place on that land.”
And in the process, he said, it will save consumers some steps when making a purchase.
Still, Amazon has the lead on online searches as well, with studies showing the majority of shopping-specific searches start at Amazon.com.
In any case, McNamara said this is just the beginning for Target’s partnership with Google.
Next year, Target plans to build out more capabilities such as allowing Redcard holders to get their 5 percent discount and free shipping perks through Google Express. And like Walmart, it is working to allow customers to pick up orders in stores within hours and link Target.com and Google accounts so past purchases will be remembered.
McNamara said the company also hopes to embed other services such as Target Restock into the voice-assisted offering.
“A repeat order is going to be phenomenal on something like the Google Assistant or the Google Home because you don’t have to say which laundry detergent to buy. From your past purchase history we know it’s Tide,” McNamara said.
But it won’t be as easy when shoppers are searching for something like a red dress. So Target will be working with Google to find ways to build out compelling experiences to better sell apparel and home goods.
“At Google, we are focused on continued innovation and making Google Express a platform to help retailers like Target offer consumers a high-quality seamless, end-to-end shopping experience,” Daniel Alegre, Google’s president for retail and shopping, said in a statement.
While fresh food is not currently part of Target’s offering through Google Express, McNamara said the retailer is hoping to add that category to the service as well as to Target.com next year.
And while Google’s drivers will initially be making the deliveries through Google Express, McNamara said Target plans to take that part over early next year by tapping into the network of couriers it now has access to through the retailer’s recent acquisition of Grand Junction and through its existing shipping partners such as Federal Express and United Parcel Service.
Kavita Kumar • 612-673-4113