Don’t expect the Google partnership to help Wal-Mart beat Amazon

  • Google's technology lead in search won't do much to help Wal-Mart in e-commerce.
  • Wal-Mart is likely to get more of a lift from its recent acquisitions.

Wal-Mart is hitting back at Amazon, hard.

Emboldened by its recent acquisitions of Jet, Bonobos, Modcloth, and others, the retail behemoth has signaled that it is rebooting its e-commerce business to compete more effectively with "The Everything Store."

The public equity markets have rewarded Wal-Mart for its strategic shift. Since the Jet deal closed in September 2016, Wal-Mart's stock is up 10 percent, adding over $20 billion in market cap despite only 1 percent quarter-over-quarter revenue growth during that period.

This week, Wal-Mart extended its competitive ambitions beyond M&A by partnering with Google to enable Google Assistant and Home to purchase items directly from Wal-Mart. While I admire Wal-Mart's desire to partner with software companies outside its areas of core competency, this move will likely be less effective than Wal-Mart's other initiatives in its fight against Amazon.

A study by Bloomreach in 2016 showed that 55 percent of product searches begin on Amazon, so in many categories Google (and therefore Wal-Mart) has already lost. In those other categories, picking a dominant retail partner presents massive channel conflict for Google and will likely upset its other advertising partners.

Google is therefore not likely to use its full power at the top of the funnel to drive that intent towards Wal-Mart alone, even though it might be the right thing to do for customers. At best, Google will implement a soft version of this preferential treatment in its voice products, but that's not where most of Google's users are today. Reading a bit into the headline of Google's press release ("Shop Wal-Mart and more of your favorite stores, faster"), Google is likely treating Wal-Mart on equal footing with its other Google Express shopping partners like Target and Costco.

Google's unique advantage is its dominance in internet search. Its neutral position in that ecosystem is inconsistent with these types of partnerships, as far as Wal-Mart is concerned. In comparison, Amazon's fully integrated offering presents no channel conflict and is already the leading voice interface. Unlike its M&A deals to date, the Google/Wal-Mart partnership will do little to curtail Amazon's lead.

The original version of this post appeared on LinkedIn.

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