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AMZN vs WMT Weekly: New Devices and Healthcare Collaborations Deepen Consumer Connections

The Amazon ecosystem got a little larger this week with a host of new products and services, most of which are tied together by a voice that consumers have gotten used to hearing from in the past seven years: Alexa.

See: Amazon Announces Home Robot, Ring Drone, Elder Care Service, ‘Hey, Disney,’ More

With the new upgrades and services, the voice assistant can now help take care of older relatives, entertain children, regulate in-home temperatures and keep digital content in a convenient place, moving Amazon, and Alexa, one step closer to being a ubiquitous source of assistance for every part of life. Already, Alexa is reported to have a 68% share of the voice AI market.

Read more: Amazon Leans on Alexa to Connect With ‘All Aspects of Consumers’ Lives’

But perhaps most exciting — and most headline grabbing — was the introduction of Astro, an at-home robot that features many of the same features as Alexa and is able to navigate the around obstacles. In five to seven years, Amazon predicts, every home will have at least one robot, and with Astro, it hopes to be among the first out of the gate.

The eCommerce giant noted, though, that Astro is more than just Alexa on wheels — Astro has its own persona and a “whole host of sounds,” Amazon said, which helps the device come to life.

As Karen Webster wrote last month, voice operating systems such as Alexa will power the connected economy, and with the expansion of its voice-powered platform and devices, Amazon is likely trying to secure its dominance over the Google Assistant or Apple’s Siri.

Read: Voice Operating Systems Like Alexa Will Power the Connected Economy: Here’s Why

Eric Turkington, vice president of growth at voice and conversational technology company RAIN, told PYMNTS in a recent interview, though, that he thinks Amazon already has a substantial leg up because of its eCommerce dominance.

“It’s not just an offshoot that could have been developed by a different company,” he said. “I think the long game of Alexa is partly about the way it can help facilitate purchases through Amazon.”

Pushing Healthcare Ambitions Forward

Walmart this week partnered with health records platform Epic, used by more than 2,000 hospitals and 45,000 clinics across the U.S., to create a portal through which Walmart Health members and healthcare professionals can access patients’ medical records and history, a major step in the box store chain’s expansion of its health services.

The portal is set to initially roll out at four new Walmart Health Centers in Florida early next year before expanding across the country. Walmart currently operates in-store health clinics in parts of Arkansas, Georgia and Illinois.

Read more: Walmart Health Teams with Epic on Patient Records Portal

CEO Doug McMillon has previously said that he sees a large role for Walmart in helping customers manage their health and wellness beyond just building in-store clinics, though that’s a major part.

“It’s how we stitch this whole thing together, from telehealth and the role that healthcare plays in the home, on mobile devices, how you triage a customer when they start to interact with you to direct them to the place to get the right care at the right time,” he told analysts on a conference call in August.

Walmart+ will also likely play a role in bringing food and healthcare together as the subscription service expands, McMillon said, though the appropriate privacy protections need to be put in place.

“So much of health is really determined by social determinants of health, which a large part of that is what you consume,” John Furner, president and CEO of Walmart U.S., said on the conference call. “Being able to have access at your home to fresh foods as part of the program is really important.”

McMillon said Walmart will need time to execute the full plan because of how local healthcare is, but “the strategy is increasingly clear to us. The pieces are on the table.”

Amazon, of course, is making its own run at the healthcare space, expanding its telehealth platform, Amazon Care, to all employees across the country over the summer and signing other companies to utilize the service. Amazon Web Services (AWS) in July also made Amazon HealthLake, a HIPAA-eligible platform for healthcare and life sciences firms, available to a wider set of companies; HealthLake is part of AWS for Health, which is an in-depth collection of AWS services and AWS Partner Network offerings used by healthcare and life sciences clients.

Also read: AWS Widens Availability Of Amazon HealthLake

And, of course, the expansion of Amazon Halo this week adds to the eCommerce company’s consumer-facing health and wellness offerings in a way that Walmart has yet to do. In addition to a new device, Amazon has introduced Halo Nutrition, a platform to help build healthy eating habits, and Halo Fitness, a new service with hundreds of studio-quality workout classes akin to Apple Fitness+.

“Customers tell us Halo is having a meaningful impact on their lives, offering important insights and tools they need to meet their health goals,” Melissa Cha, vice president of Amazon Halo, said in a statement. “We’re excited to add even more to Halo, with new experiences to help members work out and nourish their bodies.”

Read more: Amazon Halo Expansion Could Upend Connected Fitness Space

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