Fueling sales with social data: the story of Walmart Labs & the Social Genome

Walmart is one of the retailers who is really trying to fuel their business using big data. A big part of their efforts are based on the ‘social’ data we all share on networks like Twitter and Facebook. At their R&D development called Walmart Labs their busy adding data to the Social Genome, a tool that helps Walmart reach their customers based on semantic analysis of real time social media streams. The Social Genome provides Walmart with a layer of social metadata containing customers, topics, products, locations and events.

The image above is a visualisation of how this social genome works. It’s all about interpreting a network of relations: a person is interested in a topic, a person is attending an event, the event is related to a topic, a company is related to a topic and so on. Walmart is using public data, their own enterprise applications data (CRM-tools) and social data to understand these networks and act upon this understanding.

To understand how the social genome works, consider this example.

“I love salt!”, a user enthusiastically tweeted. Within a few seconds, the tiny tweet had arrived at WalmartLabs, where it was analyzed in a lightening fast fashion. A few minutes later, a message arrived in a close friend’s mailbox “Good morning, Juliana. You asked us to remind you. Hanna’s birthday is coming up. She’s just tweeted positively about SALT, a new Angelina movie. Would you like to buy something related for her? We have a few suggestions.”

As you can see the social genome is all about adding more context to transactions and offering more personalized offers to customers. Considering the ‘salt-tweet’, Walmart shows us how the network works in this case and how they know the tweet is about Salt the movie, not the condiment:

Walmart is building a Cinematch (the personal recommendation engine Netflix uses to recommend you movies to watch) for their products. Walmart is also deploying a new internally-built search engine to power Walmart.com and increase sales conversions from searches. The Polaris search engine, that also grew out of the semantic technology Walmart uses for the Social Genome, has been in use for the last few months on Walmart.com and has already boosted conversions to sales by 10-15 percent, the company said. If users search on Walmart.com with Polaris, they don’t just get a page full of results. For certain searches, they will get directed to a topic page that features specials and curated items as well as traditional search results. Another example of how big data is helping Walmart to serve their customers more relevant offers.

The Social Genome is a vast, constantly changing, up-to-date knowledge base, with hundreds of millions of entities and relationships. Walmart is using it to become a me-tailer in stead of a retailer. If you have any ideas of Social Genome applications for Walmart, they are hiring. 

About Thomas van Manen

Thomas van Manen is an analyst and digital/social strategist at VINT. His research focuses on the impact of Big Data, Mobile Information Technologies, Gamification and the Web of Things. He can help organizations roll out a Social (Business) Strategy and provide business managers with analysis on upcoming technology trends. He is the co-author of Game On, a report on the business impact of games and the potential of unleashing game dynamics onto business applications and four reports on Big Data. Thomas is also Chief Editor at the VINT research blog and was part of the HOT100 in 2012, a yearly selection of the most promising alumni in Media & Arts studies.

 

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