Walmart.com’s Improved Search Engine Powered by ‘Social Genome’
On August 30th, Walmart.com rolled out an enhanced "semantic" search engine, named Polaris, for both its e-commerce and m-commerce channels. The feature was developed by a fifteen-engineer team within the @WalmartLabs division, a collection of tech whizzes brought together through the acquisition of a number of tech startups, including Kosmix.
The objective of Polaris is to deliver more meaningful results when Walmart.com shoppers enter keywords in the site’s search field, and it does so by using a constellation of methods that consider the shopper’s relevant interests and thereby intuit his or her intent in doing the search.
The technology is based on @WalmartLabs "Social Genome," defined by the division as, "a giant knowledge base that captures interesting entities and relationships of the social world … people, events, topics, products, locations, and organizations." The Social Genome, the @WalmartLabs site goes on to say, is (cue the sci-fi music) "in a sense, the social world — all the millions and billions of tweets, Facebook messages, blog postings, YouTube videos, and more — a living organism itself, constantly pulsating and evolving."
According to information on the @WalmartLabs website, the Social Genome would allow, for example, the engine to determine based on a shopper’s social media interactions that they would be more apt to purchase a gourmet brand of coffee if just entering the keyword "coffee."
There is of course a lot more to it, but I thought I would try a simple test. Knowing that most online shoppers don’t think ahead (they just peck and go), I tried a vague search term — "glasses." On Walmart.com, the search returned a nice, neat vertical column of various drinking glasses on the first page. But, notably, above that was an offer to "Shop by Category" presenting a choice of "drinkware," "eyeglasses" and "dining & entertainment." Doing the same search on target.com, I got a seemingly haphazard, multi-column display, mixing together everything from sports sunglasses to margarita glass sets to eyeglass repair kits, with no apparent organization. Sears.com took me immediately to their Sears Optical sister site without offering any alternatives.
Somewhat impressed by Polaris, I then asked my colleague to try the exact same search on Walmart.com. His search results were identical to mine; same order of products lined up on the results page.
Highly unscientific, I warrant, but I didn’t see any evidence that Polaris was customizing the search based on my (fairly active) use of Twitter and Facebook. What it did do was organize the results much more efficiently, not leaving to chance that it may have been wrongly guessing my intent.
According to Computerworld, Walmart.com is getting a 10 to 15 percent boost in completed purchases via the new search engine. If accurate, we can assume they’re doing something right, in any case.
- Walmart Announces New Search Engine to Power Walmart.com – Walmart
- @WalmartLabs – Social Genome Project
- Walmart rolls out semantic search engine, sees business boost – Computerworld
- In Battle With Amazon, Walmart Unveils Polaris, A Semantic Search Engine For Products – techcrunch.com
Will the resources of @WalmartLabs and its Social Genome give Walmart.com a significant advantage over competitors? Do you expect the divide between the big online enterprises — Walmart.com, Amazon, eBay, etc. — and smaller online retailers to widen as social media mining techniques improve?