The founders of Kosmix, whose previous online-shopping business Junglee was acquired by Amazon in 1998, will become part of the newly formed @WalmartLabs group based in Silicon Valley. Walmart.com and the company's global sourcing operation are based in Brisbane, Calif., and headed by Vice Chairman Eduardo Castro-Wright, who took charge of those duties last year after having formerly been CEO of Walmart U.S.
"Social networking and mobile applications are increasingly becoming a part of our customers' day-to-day lives globally, influencing how they think about shopping, both online and in retail stores," said Mr. Castro-Wright in a statement. "We are excited to have the Kosmix team join us to accelerate the development of our social and mobile commerce offerings."
While Walmart is by far the biggest player in the U.S. and globally in bricks-and-mortar retail with more than $400 billion in annual sales, it's a much smaller player in e-commerce, where it has only about 10% the business of Amazon by industry estimates. Even in packaged goods, where Walmart began expanding offerings on Walmart.com aggressively only within the past year, it substantially lags both Amazon, which bought Diapers.com and Soap.com last year, and Drugstore.com, which Walgreens agreed to acquire earlier this year.
Exactly how Kosmix will help Walmart build a bigger e-commerce presence remains to be seen. But it's an intriguing fit for a retailer that by its sheer size gets about half the U.S. population through its doors every month, and as a result tends to generate an inevitably large amount of social-media buzz.
Walmart's collaboration with tween heartthrob Justin Bieber last holiday season helped boost its Twitter presence considerably. But on any given day, almost anything can make the giant retailer's buzz pop. Walmart hit the top 10 of Twitter's trending topics for some time on April 7 thanks to news reports about a man glued to a toilet seat as an apparent victim of an April Fool's Day prank at a Maryland store, combined with requests by @ThaRealCedric and @kevinhart4reall to their followers to "Retweet if you shop at Walmart."
Among Kosmix's products is TweetBeat, a real-time social-media filter for live events, which Walmart said had 5 million unique visitors last month. Such a tool could come in handy for a retailer that long has sought to tap live events, including hosting exclusive concerts via its in-store TV network.
Anand Rajaraman, co-founder of Kosmix, said in the Walmart statement: "Our work has focused on developing a social genome platform that captures the connections between people, places, topics, products and events as expressed through social media. ... We are thrilled to join one of the world's largest companies and combine our work with Walmart's vast online and offline retail businesses."