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WalmartLabs: A Glimpse Into The Future Of Ecommerce

Earlier this year, retail megastore Walmart bought Kosmix, a Silicon Valley based startup that’s been powering technologies like TweetBeat and RightHealth. The company has since been renamed @WalmartLabs.

In case you’ve never heard of Kosmix, they specialize in semantic analysis of the web. One of the founders, sums up what they did in a blog post about the acquisition:

“At Kosmix, we’ve been building a platform, called the Social Genome, to organize this data deluge by adding a layer of semantic understanding… For example, when I tweet “Loved Angelina Jolie in Salt,”the tweet connects me (a user) to Angelia Jolie (an actress) and SALT (a movie).”

“By analyzing the huge volume of data produced every day on social media, the Social Genome builds rich profiles of users, topics, products, places, and events.”

Anand Rajaraman, Founder of Kosmix

Using the semantic data from the Social Genome, Kosmix is able to understand and categorize information into sub-topics. In the case of TweetBeat, Kosmix uses semantic data to organize real-time tweets around events and displays the most interesting things people are saying about an event as it unfolds.

It seems like the main reason Walmart made the acquisition is this capability to make sense of what’s happening on the web. Having more data sounds like a great idea, but what can Walmart actually use this semantic data for? Certainly having a ‘rich profile of users, topics, products, places and events’ would help them to learn more about their customers.

Targeted deals and personalization immediately come to mind, but is that enough to win the ecommerce game? There must be something more Kosmix can bring to the table. Here are a few ideas.

Ultra-targeted deals. Frankly, the deals and offers space is getting a bit crowded and it’s difficult to reach through the noise to find a deal I really want to use. With the data Kosmix provides and past purchasing behavior, Walmart has a huge advantage in targeting deals at consumers. Imagine how great it’d be to offer a discount on pasta to somebody who is intending to cook a pasta dinner within the next few days. Or giving a discount on suntan lotion to someone who likes a tan and is planning to go to the beach soon.

Walmart has the opportunity to ultra-target consumers on many dimensions (interest, location, intent) with information that Kosmix can provide. That’s pretty exciting. No more searching for coupons online and gone are the days of emails about deals you have no interest in. You’ll only get deals that you will truly cash in and products that you will actually use.

Social recommendations. With social networks, it ‘s now pretty easy to obtain information about a person and who the person knows. The hard part is figuring out what type of relationship a person has with those they are linked to. With semantic analysis of social interactions, Walmart can now determine how a person is related to the people they know.

Say your childhood friend’s birthday is around the corner. Walmart knows this through your Facebook profile and can figure out the nature of your relationship. You then get sent an appropriate gift recommendation through email, along with free shipping, gift wrapping and a birthday card. All you have to do is to click the buy button to send it to your friend. The hassle of choosing and buying a gift is gone. Sounds like a great idea to me.

Private group buy suggestions. Group buying is all the rage, but group deals are usually offered to everyone and can cannibalize existing demand. What if you could only offer group deals to people that would otherwise not buy that product? Walmart has the chance to turn group buying on its head by being able to determine exactly which customers to target for group deals and offering them a private group deal.

Real-time product reviews. Fun fact: the founders of Kosmix were the ones who built Amazon Mechanical Turk, a crowd sourced workforce accessible to anyone, for a fee of course. With Walmart, Kosmix has the chance to one-up Merchanical Turk. Instead of paying people or relying on customers logging into Walmart.com to write a review, Walmart can crawl the web and find out what people have been saying about their products and posting them up as anonymized reviews.  As a bonus, Walmart can even present the information to you in a socially relevant manner that shows you what your social network has been saying about things you want to buy.

We’ll have to wait and see what comes out of Walmart’s new purchase. But judging by the Kosmix track record and the calibre of its founders, @WalmartLabs is going to be interesting to watch.



ReferralCandy is a customer acquisition tool used by hundreds of ecommerce retailers and business owners around the world.

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