Walmart hires developers to drive 'e-commerce 2.0'

Walmart is 'aggressively hiring' developers to advance its e-commerce agenda. It will use data gathered from social networks to improve the search and recommendation experience for users and deliver a highly personalised set of results.
Written by Eileen Brown, Contributor

Walmart is hiring more software developers to help it with its social commerce strategy and has created @WalmartLabs in Silicon Valley to drive this change.

The company is 'aggressively hiring' developers, and is starting a set of acquisitions to advance its e-commerce push.

Walmart acquired Kosmix for $300 million in April 2011. Kosmix are specialists in semantic web analysis. Founders Venky Harinarayan and Anand Rajaraman are now senior vice-president's of Walmart's global e-commerce division and are driving changes in our social commerce experience.

Social data goldmine

Walmart has a great opportunity to use its social data to anticipate what customers want. Combining existing purchase data with input from social streams such as Facebook could deepen Walmart's understanding of customer needs.

Data from Facebook and Twitter is publicly available for analysis. Competitive intelligence and market data held at other companies is much more closely guarded. What seems to be a totally meaningless comment from someone you follow on Twitter can be a social data goldmine to analysts.

For example, if one person tweets about a new brand of coffee that they have tried, the message might be ignored. If millions tweet about the same brand, that data becomes very valuable to brands -- especially brands the size of Walmart.

The transactional information Walmart has about customer purchases can be combined with what customers say that they want in the future. This could lead to better stock purchasing and highlight customer buying trends.

Local and personalised

Searching on Walmart.com will use data gathered from Facebook and Twitter to improve the search and recommendation experience for users. It intends to deliver a highly personalised set of results based on you and your social activities.

Walmart plans to recommend things that it knows you and your friends like. Targeted recommendations will highlight products liked by your Facebook friends, or mentioned on Twitter, blogs, or other data sources.  Walmart will see what your social network is saying about things you want to buy.

Walmart announced a partnership with Facebook in October to bring a more local community feel to Walmart.  My Local Walmart intends to bring relevance to local stores through interaction with customers. Using Kosmix's "Social Genome" technology, social media conversations can be monitored to give better intelligence about what the local Walmart store should stock.

Social shopping

Mobile social technology has changed so e-commerce has to change. The goal of @WalmartLabs is to find "the best and most innovative ways of connecting customers with products".

Shoppers with Apple's EasyPay app can already buy some products using their iPhone 4. In November, Walmart acquired Grabble, maker of point of sale technology that ties in with mobile phones.

The challenge is taking the social shopping experience to the next level. "Social networking and mobile applications are becoming a part of our customers' day-to-day lives" says Eduardo Castro-Wright, Walmart vice-chairman.

Perhaps the greater challenge is for these innovations to change the way that Walmart operates. Walmart is a huge company and this team is tiny in comparison. If it does manage to change things just a little, the benefits will be huge for shoppers.

And if Walmart succeeds, it could advance the social commerce experience for all of us.

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