They don’t have monogrammed towels yet, but Microsoft and Walmart are taking their relationship to the next level by officially announcing Microsoft is Walmart’s preferred cloud provider.
In a press release, Walmart called this a strategic five-year partnership that will accelerate digital transformation in retail, empower associates, and make shopping faster and easier for customers. But, like how the scepter of Shawn Mendes arguably looms over the whirlwind courtship of Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin, it’s hard not to wonder how much keeping pace with Amazon figured in their decision to pair up.
Which is not to say the partnership was hasty, per se. The release noted Walmart was already using Microsoft services and is now embarking on “cloud innovation projects” with AI and machine learning, as well as data platform products, for a number of internal and customer-facing applications. For example, Walmart said it will build an IoT platform on cloud computing service Microsoft Azure, including connected HVAC and refrigeration units to reduce energy usage in U.S. stores and the application of machine learning to routing trucks.
The partnership will also include migrating “a significant portion of walmart.com and samsclub.com” to Azure, which has cloud-powered checkout. Walmart says it will enable it to “reach more global markets than ever before.” (In May, Walmart confirmed it bought Indian ecommerce platform Flipkart giving it a foothold in the world’s second most populous country, but it has also struggled in markets like the U.K., Germany, Korea and Brazil, as well as in China.)
“Whether it’s combined with our agile cloud platform or leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence to work smarter, we believe Microsoft will be a strong partner in driving our ability to innovate even further and faster,” said Walmart CEO Doug McMillon in a statement.
Microsoft declined comment. Walmart did not respond to a request for comment.
But after reports earlier this year that Microsoft is developing checkout-less technology like Amazon Go and JD.com’s X-Marts, it certainly seems at least plausible that this budding relationship—as well as Walmart’s acquisition of Flipkart—is in part to help Walmart keep up with Amazon. But, without commentary beyond the release, it’s too soon to tell if Azure’s cloud-powered checkout will bring Walmart one step closer to no checkout at all.