Walmart is asking companies that want to sell smart home products to make sure those products work with Google Home. The retailer has instructed potential suppliers to ensure that their products support Google Home, and if they also support Amazon Alexa, that they make such certification visible on the side or back of their packaging.
While several people responsible for selling smart home products confirmed they had received those instructions from Walmart, two others also said that Walmart suggested that it would prefer if providers didn’t host their services on Amazon Web Services, and that the ideal smart home products shouldn’t require a hub. None of the half-dozen companies I spoke to about this topic would agree to go on the record.
I reached out to Walmart on Tuesday to get its perspective, and as of this writing have not heard back.
But its demands are not surprising. Amazon is Walmart’s arch-rival in the retail space; meanwhile, Walmart has clearly indicated its discomfort with Amazon’s reach in cloud computing and logistics. In June of last year, The Wall Street Journal reported that Walmart had told its tech vendors to move off of Amazon’s cloud.
Also last year, Walmart signed a deal with Google to provide hundreds of thousands of products that Google Home customers could order by voice using their Google Home and a service called Google Express.
Clearly, Walmart now wants to support Google Home as a competitor to Amazon’s Echo and Alexa ecosystem. We saw Walmart offer impressive discounts on Google Minis during Amazon’s “Prime Day” discounting event in July, and my hunch is we’ll see similar deals in the smart home arena bundling Google Home devices with other smart home products for this year’s holiday season.
From the perspective of device makers, embracing Google isn’t a harmful decision, especially when doing so helps get your devices onto Walmart’s shelves. However, most device makers try to support Alexa first, Google second, and in many cases, weigh the benefits of HomeKit. But that’s another story.
Walmart’s decision to bet on Google stands in stark contrast to other retailers’ efforts with the smart home. IKEA, for example, has built its own line of connected products with a focus on low prices and easy installation. Lowe’s has its own smart home hub and Iris-branded products to match the hub, though it also sells a wide range of other connected products. Home Depot and Best Buy both sell products from a variety of vendors.
From a consumer point of view, Walmart’s push toward Google Home doesn’t bother me. Amazon’s Alexa is currently the team to beat when it comes to building a better smart home, and I’d like to see companies respond to that challenge. Plus, it doesn’t sound like Walmart is penalizing companies that work with Amazon, which would be a step too far.
Viva the smart home wars!