On Thursday, Target and Google announced that they are expanding what was a years-old delivery partnership from a small experiment in a handful of cities to the entire continental U.S.
The expansion will allow Target to become a retail partner in Google's voice-shopping initiative, which lets owners of the Google Home "smart" speaker order items through voice commands like owners of the Echo can do from Amazon.
The announcement comes seven weeks after Walmart inked a similar deal with Google to offer hundreds of thousands of products through the service. Other big-box retailers like Home Depot are also on board.
Voice commerce was the core of these recent announcements, and it may someday become popular for types of shopping like reordering household staples. But that's not what is most interesting here to me.
Instead, it's the promise that Target is also beginning to work with Google "to create innovative digital experiences using ... other cutting-edge technologies to elevate Target's strength in style areas such as home, apparel and beauty."
"Target and Google teams are working on ... building experiences that digitally replicate the joy of shopping a Target store to discover stylish and affordable products," Target's digital chief Mike McNamara said in a press release.
If I were a betting man, I'd wager that augmented reality will be one of the areas where the two sides will seriously explore a way to work together. A Target spokesperson said it's too early to provide details on future partnerships between the companies.
One reason for my guess: The use of the phrase "digitally replicate the joy of shopping" above, which sounds like a hint at either augmented or virtual reality.
Another reason: Just this week, at the Shoptalk Europe conference, Google's director of augmented reality, Greg Jones, pitched retailers in the audience on working together, and made the case why Google and retailers' interests are aligned.
While nodding to the obvious threat Amazon poses to retailers, Jones admitted that the e-commerce giant is "also a threat to Google, since a lot of people are going to Amazon first when it comes to product search." There is plenty of data to back that up.
Google has already worked with retailers like Lowe's to use augmented-reality technology — which when viewed through a phone's screen — to help shoppers find the products they are looking for when in a store.
And the tech giant has also worked with Pottery Barn on an augmented-reality app that lets shoppers get a visual idea of what a new piece of furniture will look like in their home. Ikea, Houzz and Wayfair have built similar solutions in their apps.
Jones also told the audience that Google would be building its own augmented-reality apps focused on the retail world. In a brief interview after his presentation, Jones said one goal of this initiative is to give a wide range of shoppers the benefits of AR features without requiring them to download a different app for every retailer they frequent.
To be sure, one voice-shopping or augmented-reality partnership won't be the difference between thriving or failing in an increasingly Amazon-led world. But a series of smart partnerships over several years between Google and big retailers will give both sides the best chance at fighting back. They sure need each other.
—By Jason Del Rey, Recode.net.
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