Walmart launches its own voice assistant, ‘Ask Sam,’ initially for employee use

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Walmart is expanding its use of voice technology. The company announced today its taking its employee assistance voice technology dubbed “Ask Sam” and making it available to associates at over 5,000 Walmart stores nationwide. The tool allows Walmart employees to look up prices, access store maps, find products, view sales information, check email, and more. In recent months, Ask Sam has also been used to access COVID-19 information, including the latest guidelines, guidance and safety videos.

“Ask Sam” was initially developed for use in Walmart-owned “Sam’s Club” stores, where it rolled out across the U.S. in 2019. Because of its use of voice tech, Ask Sam can speed up the time it takes to get to information versus typing a query on the small screen. This allows employees to better engage with customers instead of spending time on their device looking for information.

In the COVID-19 era, the tool offers another perk — it’s easier to use a voice app when you’re wearing gloves.

In addition to common functions like price lookups and product locators, Ask Sam can also help employees with printing, email, or viewing staff birthdays or other events. An included Emergency Alert feature allows managers to quickly and efficiently alert all employees of emergency situations, whether that’s a lockdown order requiring them to remain in the store or an in-store emergency that requires everyone to leave the stores.

The voice assistance technology was built using machine learning techniques, which means it gets smarter and more accurate over time, as it’s used. In addition, a team manually reviews the questions being asked to help find other patterns and trends the tech may have missed, like top searched-items.

This is not the retailer’s first experiments in use voice technology. In addition to the Ask Sam product’s earlier launch within Sam’s Club stores, Walmart itself also partnered with Google last year on voice-ordering across Google Assistant-powered platforms, in a bid to counter Amazon’s advances with Alexa in the home. And three years ago, Walmart had worked with Google on voice-based shopping on Google Home devices before Google Express shut down.

Walmart has not said whether it would create a version of Ask Sam technology that would aim to serve retail customers. But given that the product is now capable of answering questions that customers want to know too — like where to find an item or how much it costs — it makes sense that the retailer would expand the offering in the future.