Digital West

Where Walmart Is Headed in Social, Mobile Retailing

E-Commerce Chief: Retailer Aims to Evolve Online Shopping and In-Store Use of Smartphones, Apps

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Walmart Labs Senior VP-Global E-Commerce Anand Rajaraman took the stage at Ad Age Digital today in San Francisco to explain why exactly the world's largest retailer would buy a social media startup.

Walmart Labs Senior VP-Global E-Commerce Anand Rajaraman at Ad Age Digital West
Walmart Labs Senior VP-Global E-Commerce Anand Rajaraman at Ad Age Digital West Credit: Tony Avelar

Mr. Rajaraman joined Walmart early this year when the retailer acquired his company, Kosmix. Just this month, Walmart acquired key assets of mobile-ad-targeting company OneRiot. Mr. Rajaraman says that 's primarily a talent acquisition and that Walmart has no plans to continue with OneRiot's existing business.

So how'd Walmart even get interested in Kosmix?

"It's a story of Silicon Valley karma," said Mr. Rajaraman. "Several years ago I helped an entrepreneur get an introduction to a venture capitalist, and it so happened that this person five years later joined Walmart."

"We got a call from Walmart to come talk to them, and for a long time I didn't return the call because I didn't think they were serious. I mean if they tweeted me, maybe. But this was a phone call."

He eventually did return that call, met with Wal-Mart Stores Vice Chairman Eduardo Castro-Wright and realized the two companies had a similar vision for the future of e-commerce. Today, his team, as part of Walmart Labs, is nose to the grindstone in an office in Silicon Valley figuring out how retail works in a more mobile and social world.

"There are lots of reasons why shops are in the downtown area -- because that 's where people are," Mr. Rajaraman said. "Shops will follow people where they are, and that 's into social media."

That includes evolving e-commerce on and how consumers use smartphones to supplement in-store shopping trips with such information as product features and reviews.

"The previous era was about taking the store and bringing it to the web," he said. "We believe the next generation, one of the dominant themes is bringing the web to the store."

Mr. Rajaraman, a huge proponent of data analysis, is also thinking about how social media can help stores adjust inventory. With thousands of Walmart stores each serving a local community, not every store carries the same assortment of products. While store receipts help stores see which products sell well where, social media can help predict demand and determine new products to add to inventory.

"We're analyzing social information for the neighborhood area of each store," he said. "How should the interests of a community influence the assortment in the store?"

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