Is Walmart’s Shopycat Worth Copying?

Discussion
Dec 08, 2011
George Anderson

When Walmart announced last week that it had debuted its Shopycat social gift recommendation app, I was excited to see how it worked.

The app, for those not familiar, makes gift suggestions based on areas of interest gleaned from Facebook activity. If a friend follows a particular music group, for example, you can expect to see that artist or similar artists pop-up in the Shopycat recommendations.

“As human beings, we are inherently social and shopping is one of the most social activities we engage in. Our vision is to delight consumers and Shopycat is a first step in that direction with social and shopping coming together on the scale of Walmart,” Venky Harinarayan, senior vice president of Walmart Global eCommerce and co-founder of @WalmartLabs, said in a press release. “We plan to continue experimenting with products as we build new social apps over the coming year.”

Reading Mr. Harinarayan’s comments was a relief because the first few attempts using the app were underwhelming. Before getting into observations about Shopycat, let me say that having worked long enough in the online space, I’m well aware that pretty much everything continues to be a work in progress. That is no more true than in the area of recommendations, whether they come from online purchasing behavior (a la Amazon, Apple, Netflix, etc.) or through your “likes” or other activity on social media sites. One of the interesting aspects of social recommendations is that, in theory, they would enable merchants to go beyond the surface and discover selling opportunities based on individual aspirations and other factors.

As to Shopycat in practice, I came across a few issues, as did some friends I asked to test the app.

The two most comical included a recommendation for haircare products for a bald relative and barbells for the resident video gamer who, while needing exercise, restricts such activity to getting in and out of his swivel chair.

Gift suggestions, that may have been generally relevant, were sometimes a bit too obvious to be all that helpful, for example a set of Star Wars DVDs for a lifelong sci-fi fan. There were also some technical glitches, which I assume will be quickly resolved. Accessing the app via Facebook in Firefox returned only a frustrating “sorry, something’s wrong” message, and in Google Chrome, the browser locked up when trying to load the page.

Nevertheless, in the final analysis, I’m giving Walmart a thumbs-up for this first step. I look forward to what comes next.

Discussion Questions: What do you think of the potential of social recommendation apps? Do you see an app that creates recommendations based on a combination of purchasing behavior and social media activity as the ultimate goal? Is anyone in the market close to doing this effectively now?

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6 Comments on "Is Walmart’s Shopycat Worth Copying?"


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Dan Berthiaume
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Dan Berthiaume
9 years 4 months ago

Great idea, although from the description given, Walmart needs to tweak the algorithms a bit to provide the right suggestions. Some consumers could become genuinely offended by something like getting a hair product recommendation if you’re bald. But it seems clear this type of social media-based recommendation is the next step in targeting and personalization.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
9 years 4 months ago

I give Walmart a thumbs up for this first step in social recommendation apps and, like George Anderson, I look forward to what comes next.

If it is deemed relevant, I would hope that one of Shopycat’s behavioral recommendations would be for WM shoppers to dress appropriately when outside the house.

Joel Rubinson
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

I just signed up so I could experience it. It was a bit spooky and impressive all at the same time. However, the big thing Walmart needs is scale. I really don’t see this as much more than a test tube experiment whose sales impact will get lost in the rounding. I don’t see how this will impact say, 20MM shoppers.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

As many of you may know, there are major discussions going on in the UK now over privacy and the extent to which people are entitled to expect it. Where people willingly sacrifice it, by exposing their preferences on social media, however, there are major opportunities for retailers to SELL, SELL, SELL. Consumers who participate in the aforesaid exposure of their preferences will likely be pleased to use apps that save them the trouble of having to think about what to buy rather than having purchases thrust upon them.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Maybe this app will develop into something over time. Meantime, I will stick with the Wish List apps created by the person.

Charles P. Walsh
Guest
Charles P. Walsh
9 years 4 months ago

Much like early smart phones operating systems, while promising, there were many let downs and underwhelming deliveries on the promises.

Walmart’s Shopycat tagline of “the right gift every time” is a bit over confident based upon what we see reported here.

However I applaud Walmart for launching this, and other promised app properties, as one day the technology and relevance will catch up with the promise.

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