Even a behemoth can build a responsive and
adaptable system, though it helps to have
a cool lab full of engineers in Silicon Valley
INTEGRATING THE SPEED and agility of
social media and e-commerce into the lumbering hulk of the largest retailer on Earth
is a monumental challenge. But Walmart
has made impressively quick moves toward
remaking itself as a bricks-and-clicks powerhouse during the past nine months.
In April, Walmart purchased Twitter app
developer Kosmix for $300 million and
instantly refashioned it as Walmart Labs, its
social and e-commerce research-and-devel-opment unit in Mountain View, Calif.
Within months, Walmart Labs had added
advertising network OneRiot and mobile
app developer Small Society—acquisitions
aimed at grabbing talent—and had managed to assemble a formidable presence in
Meanwhile, Walmart has overhauled its
e-commerce unit in the
San Francisco Bay Area
and changed its connection to the mother ship.
Joel Anderson, based at
corporate headquarters in
Bentonville, Ark., took
over as CEO of
Walmart.com in the U.S.
With the unit reporting to Bentonville, store
managers now get credit
for online sales
from their area,
Neil Ashe was appointed president of
Walmart’s global e-commerce unit in
January; within about a month, it had
bought a majority stake in Chinese e-tailer
Amid all the revamps, Walmart has
pumped out digital-marketing initiatives at
a frenetic pace. They include the company’s
first iPad app, as well as an overhauled
iPhone app that incorporates Siri, home
barcode-scanning and automatic generation
of shopping lists that integrate digital
The unit also launched its Shopycat app,
which analyzes Facebook friends’ “likes”
and comments to develop gift suggestions;
and “Get on the Shelf,” a digital “American
Idol” for prospective Walmart vendors to
get their items in front of buyers.
The latter idea—which came from an
engineer at Walmart Labs—illustrates how
the giant’s foray into Silicon Valley is
reconfiguring not just its marketing but its
business processes and culture, according to
Anand Rajaraman, the company’s senior
VP-global e-commerce and the head of
“It’s the idea that you can do some
experiments and take some risks,” Mr.
Rajaraman said. “It’s OK if some of these
experiments fail, but you build on the suc-
If anything, Walmart Labs is looking to
pick up the pace. Now with about 200
employees in the Valley, the unit continues
to hire and scout for “interesting companies
with interesting talent,” Mr. Rajaraman
said. Competing with Google, LinkedIn,
Facebook and Zynga for hires, “we win
more than our fair share of battles, because
what we’re doing is a very unique thing—
developing the next generation of shop-
ping,” he said.
NEIGHBORHOOD: MY LOCAL
T AIMS TO BUILD SOCIAL
NITIES FOR 3,500 STORES.
information about their local stores—from
Rollbacks to how to find new products,” said
Wanda Young, senior director-digital strategy.
Signs have popped up at Walmart checkouts urging shoppers to like their local
stores and join the social communities. Ms.
Young said she hopes to see store managers
get involved as the voices of their locations.
“This really goes back to the roots of
what Walmart is about,” Ms. Young said.
“Sam Walton would go into stores and talk
to customers and listen, and then go in and
talk to associates and listen.”
Comments on Walmart’s Facebook wall
helped spur the decision to bring back lay-
away over the holidays, Mrs. Young said.
The feedback also increasingly informs
other merchandising decisions.
“My team spends a lot of time working
with our merchandising organization to
share when we’ve done product posts, what
was the commentary, the sentiment and
how did it perform,” Ms. Young said.
“We’ve actually had instances when
feedback on a product led to a packaging
change on-shelf because the manufacturer
recognized that there was confusion, she
said. “It’s a day-in, day-out part of the marketing conversation.”