By David Dorf on Apr 19, 2011
I visited Walmart once to speak with their innovation team about emerging technologies and their potential impact on retail. In my opinion, Walmart has been keeping pace but I wouldn't call them out as a leader in innovation. But perhaps with the formation of their @WalmartLabs team, things will move into high gear. From their press release:
Walmart plans to expand the @WalmartLabs team and expects this new group will create technologies and businesses around social and mobile commerce that will support Walmart's global multi-channel strategy, which integrates the shopping experience between bricks and mortar stores and e-commerce.
Step one was to spend $300M on Kosmix, a social media startup that has roots in the e-commerce world. Social media has accelerated the rate at which content is created, so organizing that content has become an even bigger challenge. Kosmix is working on a Social Genome platform that filters and organizes social media content across the Web. No small feat at all.
To try this out, I performed a search on "G37," the car from Infinity. Kosmix returned product reviews, reference information from Wikipedia, articles, discussions, videos, and news all relevant to my search. Of course it also displayed advertising based on my search.
I guess Walmart is battling Amazon and eBay to be a trusted source for product information. After all, when you're the first place people go for information, you have a leg-up on the eventual sale. Although social commerce hasn't yet displaced e-commerce, it continues to grow as a source of referrals. Understanding how social commerce can be combined with other channels to drive sales is key for retailers.
The interesting trend here is retailers buying technology companies instead of just partnering with them. Amazon and to some extent eBay have been doing that for years, but Walmart is a newcomer. I wouldn't be surprised if BestBuy, Sears, and Target followed with their own acquisitions.