Walmart’s new innovation unit is combing social networks for marketing material. The project is being led by two startup founders from the store’s recently acquired Kosmix.

Walmart Labs supplements internal resources by startup acquisitions


Worldwide megamart chain Walmart may be best known for its support of suburbian sprawl, but they have been developing a robust digital media strategy. The latest development of this kind is Walmart Labs, a business unit based in Silicon Valley, as opposed to the store’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. As it name suggests, the entity is Walmart’s innovation lab and aims to integrate the shopping experience between their big box stores and by creating new platforms, products and businesses around social and mobile commerce. Its Social Genome is one such product, a system that monitors social networks for trends and other entries of notice and analyzes them in order to effectively market products. Walmart Labs is the result of Walmart’s acquisition of several innovative startups specialized in e-commerce and mobile marketing.

A startup environment in a corporate group

The corporation’s strategy is to increase innovation through acquisitions as well as by using their internal resources. Walmart Labs is trying to combine the best of both the corporate and the startup worlds; it has the resources of its parent corporation, yet is not completely integrated and keeps a startup feeling within what one would assume would be an ultra-corporate environment. Walmart Labs was initially created in April 2011 from Walmart’s acquisition of social media startup Kosmix, led by Venky Harinarayan and Anand Rajaraman, the founders of connection group Kosmix. Since then, Wamlart has also bought Grabble – a point-of-sale technology that integrates with mobile – mobile advertising startup OneRiot, and more recently, mobile agency Smart Society.

Semantic analysis are driving the mobile strategy

Walmart Labs’ lead project, The Social Genomeis a research project and product that uses semantic analysis to collect insightful data about customers based on social conversations. It distills tweets, Facebook and blog posts, YouTube videos and other entries for potential resources. Their Fast Data processing solution is called Muppet, and they use it to convert the data into specific terms, or extract trends with natural language processing in order to infer that someone is talking about Salt, the movie, not salt, the substance. The goal is then to use this data to improve the shopping experience through better targeting. This process has created an extensive knowledge base that can bolster marketing campaigns such as Walmart Lab’s “Get on the Shelf” contest. The contest is a competition where individuals enter with an entry video featuring a new product. These products will be voted on in two rounds, the winner of these will be available on the Walmart website or stores.

By Ivory King