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Conversational commerce. Google and Walmart. Members-only loyalty.

This is the fourth edition of Kaleidoscope, a monthly retail-focused newsletter from ThoughtWorks. Sign up here.



Yes, most chatbots are average 


… at best. But brands still need to invest in conversational interfaces across both voice and messaging. Why bother? Messaging is the #1 thing people do with their phones. And not just texting friends and family - people strongly prefer brands they can message. There’s still a way to go before our voices and thumbs link us to experiences that are truly conversational, but the appetite and thirst for these interfaces is difficult to ignore. 


In ‘Why conversational UI? Why now?’ we explore why it’s prime time for brands to advance their conversational and natural language processing capabilities. Hint: Those that get ahead early will stay there.


"Alexa, we’re coming for you”


Speaking of voice, Walmart and Google have teamed up to take on Amazon’s Alexa. Google Home owners will be able to link their Walmart accounts to Google Express and order items through Google’s voice-enabled technology. Unlike most of its retail counterparts, Walmart has managed to preserve its value over the 2006 - 2016 period (during which Amazon increased its value by 1934%). One small problem, Amazon is bleeding Walmart dry. The grocery giant has made substantial improvements to both its in-store experience and its ecommerce offering, but this has come at a cost - expenses buoyed 4% compared to last year and margins continued to decline. 


This news arrives amid the closure of Amazon’s Whole Foods acquisition. Amazon instantly lowered prices on staples such as eggs, milk, bread and bananas as soon as the deal closed. For more on the future of food and state of the grocery industry, take a look at our 'Stomach Wars’ report.


Members only


Beauty mecca Sephora launched an exclusive, members-only, Reddit-style social platform called Beauty Insider Community for its most engaged customers. Makeup mavens can use it to get beauty inspiration, recommendations and answers to beauty-related questions. The live community chat feature lets clients chat with other Sephora customers from the product page about items before they purchase.


Top 5: What we’re reading



  • Facebook’s marketplace will soon feature a lot more than just your neighbor’s old junk. Link
  • Luxury brands embrace WeChat Commerce for Qixi Festival. Link
  • Best Buy and Amazon bring back the traveling salesman. Link
  • Food-based store remodels pay off for Dollar General. Link
  • Inside Square’s first brick-and-mortar space. Link