Google's Digital Assistant Gets a Key Commerce Feature

  • Company adds support for voice-based ordering and payments
  • Demo of the new service features Panera Bread purchase

Google CEO Sundar Pichai talks about Google Lens and updates to the Google Assistant during the keynote address of the Google I/O conference on May 17, in Mountain View, Calif.

Photographer: Eric Risberg/AP Photo

Google is bringing commerce features to its voice-based digital Assistant, a move that may help the company develop new ways of making money from the technology and compete with rival products from Apple Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Facebook Inc.

The Alphabet Inc. unit unveiled support for ordering, payments and delivery for the Google Assistant at its developer conference in Mountain View, California, on Wednesday. The service also confirms shoppers’ identities, and sends notifications and purchase receipts.

Over the years, Google has taken several stabs at e-commerce and payments, including a mobile wallet and delivery service similar to Amazon’s. Many of these efforts have struggled to get traction. Google’s financial success with the Assistant may need to rely on commerce, rather than the advertising that supports its main business of text-based online search.

E-commerce giant Amazon, which is pushing its rival Alexa assistant, hosts its own payments infrastructure and has a huge network of warehouses and delivery services to get products to people who place voice-based orders. Apple offers payments for iPhones, but does not yet provide voice-based transactions via Siri, its digital assistant service.

During a demonstration on Wednesday, a Google executive used the Assistant to request a delivery from Panera Bread Co. Panera asked for an address and she answered, and then ordered a salad by voice. Panera then suggested drink options and she picked a lemonade. Panera sent an order summary. After scanning her fingerprint, she paid and received a digital receipt for the meal. Her address and payment information were previously provided to Google, she said.

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