Walmart wants to transform itself into a social media retail mega player and it’s backing that desire by investing millions of dollars into its young, little-known development lab, @WalmartLabs.Born in April with the $300 million purchase of Kosmix, @WalmartLabs today announced its fourth acquisition, a mobile app company called Small Society known for writing apps for clients like the Democratic National Committee and Starbucks.
The co-founders of Kosmix, Venky Harinarayan and Anand Rajaraman, are the leaders of Walmart Labs. Each has been granted the title of senior vice president of Walmart Global eCommerce and head of @WalmartLabs.
Their goal is to have Walmart create the next great shopping experience by melding physical stores with online search and social media input.
“We are at an inflection point in the development of ecommerce. The first generation of ecommerce was about bringing the store to the web. The next generation will be about building integrated experiences that leverage the store, the web, and mobile, with social identity being the glue that binds the experience,” said Anand Rajaraman in a blog post when @WalmarLabs was launched.
Using what it calls its “Social Genome” applications, it scans Twitter and other social sites to seek out and analyse consumer trends. The team is also writing mobile apps for shoppers.
What’s interesting is that Walmart would rather build its own than use some of the many social media tools for retailers already on the market, even from big IT companies like Oracle and IBM.
So far the group has launched a classic iPhone and iPad shopping app and one called ShopCat for Facebook users. ShopCat scans Facebook friends’ profiles to recommend gifts for them from Walmart, RedEnvelope, Barnes & Noble, and ThinkGeek.
But the team clearly has bigger plans for changing the way everyday people shop for everyday items. And it looks like @WalmartLabs has only just begun: it’s got a career section 25 jobs long.
Note: This story has been updated. The original incorrectly identified one of the companies purchased by Walmart. The correct company is Grabble.