Inventing the future @WalmartLabs

Walmart may have been slow to embrace the online space in the mid 90’s when dot-com fever first heated up, but it isn’t making the same mistake the second time around as the digital world undergoes the mobile and social revolution.

This is evident by some of the company’s recent moves, especially the recent acquisition of Kosmix and the creation of @WalmartLabs to be led by Kosmix founders. The pair, Venky Harinarayan and Anand Rajaraman, was acknowledged at Walmart’s shareholders meeting several weeks ago and as All Things Digital reported this week, they currently lead a 70 person team based in Silicon Valley.

According to the article, at the time Walmart acquired Kosmix the company was building a database called the social genome project, which kept track of what people were interested in and what products people were talking about. Now, two months after the acquisition, they are focused on social and mobile platforms and how they interact with shopping.

In the article, Rajaraman said while it’s unclear exactly what social commerce will mean, melding the two together is a no-brainer.

“There won’t be commerce without social. Social shopping today is where online shopping was before Amazon came on the scene. The Amazon of the space has yet to be built,” Rajaraman said.

Two areas of initial interest are gifting and virtual end-caps with several implementations expected to be ready for holiday season.

The article quotes, Kosmix founder Harinarayan as saying commerce 1.0 was about the search box, but the second generation will be about knowing what a consumer wants and presenting them the options before they have to ask for them. For instance, if you log in to Walmart using Facebook Connect, it may be able to make recommendations on what to buy a friend based on things they have liked or have discussed in their news feed. While an end-cap in the store is an end-of-aisle feature display, in the virtual world, an end-cap could be a personalized e-mail sent to a customer with a curated list of items they might like, similar to Gilt Groupe or Groupon, according to the article. To make these recommendations, they said they will be gathering information from people’s Twitter accounts and Facebook pages with their permission.