Is Walmart and WalmartLabs Ready To Take on Amazon?

All eyes in retail (not to mention social media) darted to Walmart, dubbed the world’s largest retailer, in April 2011, when it surpassed competitors and forged into the social-commerce sphere by purchasing social commerce start-up Kosmix (now called @WalmartLabs) for a reported $300 million.

The new addition shifted the retailer’s focus to e-commerce, which seemed dramatic, considering Walmart had allowed Amazon.com and competitors to shuttle to the throne of online retail space unchallenged years before. Suddenly, Walmart was getting to work creating a hyper-personalized shopping experience.

It looked a savvy purchase, considering that a company called Junglee, started by Kosmix founders Venky Harinarayan and Anand Rajaraman earlier, had been successfully sold to Amazon.com in 1998.

Based in Mountain View, California and founded in 2005, Kosmix developed a technology platform — a social media filter–that searches, gathers and analyzes information according to topic in real-time data streams from social media platforms (such as Facebook and Twitter) and delivers the personalized data to users.

At the time of the Kosmix acquisition, Eduardo Castro-Wright, Walmart’s vice chairman, said in a press release,  “We are expanding our capabilities in today’s rapidly growing social commerce environment.”

At last, the retailer behemoth made this important (if late) observation: “Social networking and mobile applications are increasingly becoming a part of our customers’ day-to-day lives globally, influencing how they think about shopping, both online and in retail stores.”

Said Anand Rajaraman, co-founder of Kosmix, of the new venture,  “Our work has focused on developing a social genome platform that captures the connections between people, places, topics, products and events as expressed through social media—be it a feed, a tweet or a post.”

What better was to upgrade the shopping experience, right? But since then, we’d heard little about Walmart’s grand social schema. In fact, comScore reported no traffic to Walmartlabs.com in July (which means it did not reach the 50,000 unique visitors mark) and 65,000 unique visitors for Kosmix.com (visitors to which were redirected to WalmartLabs.com) for July 2011. Thus, we were delighted to spot Nidhi Subbaraman’s piece delving into Walmart’s social plan and direction in FastCompany.

According to Subbaraman’s reporting, by the end of the year shoppers may be reaping the rewards of Walmart’s jump into social commerce.

Walmart will seek also to engage with its shoppers and fans on their preferred social networks, she reports, and plans to gather knowledge from customers (and pals in their social networks) to provide gift suggestions to shoppers. It also hopes to offer deals (psst, possibly around the holidays) through social networks, which may be a good reason to start following, she reports.

Lastly, Walmart hopes to enhance the in-store shopping experience by providing information (such as details on products and possibly reviews from a customer’s social-networking connections) to shoppers via the smartphones many of them are now carrying. Hm, is there an app in the works, Walmart? The retailer also plans to use information gathered on social networks from people living in close proximity to Walmart stores to inform inventory decisions, added Subbaraman.

But is Walmart really prepared to take on Amazon.com? Time will tell.

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