WalmartLabs - taking Big Data into retail

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Walmart Labs

Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, acquired social media firm Kosmix just over a year ago, creating @WalmartLabs, with the intention to use this specialist R&D unit to define the future of commerce by merging social, mobile and retail.

So far WalmartLabs has released two interesting developments using social:

ShopyCat gift recommendation engine Walmart Labs• ShopyCat - the gift recommendation engine

This Facebook application uses your Facebook profile to suggest suitable products for you, based on the interests and hobbies of your friends. An interesting aspect of this approach is that the app will offer links to other retailers if Walmart do not stock a suggested item in their own stores.

The notion that the app may steer customers away from Walmart may seem unusual, but the brand sees more long-term gain in making the service as useful and relevant as possible to its customers.

• Get on the shelf - innovative product pitching

‘Get on the shelf’ was a contest that allowed innovators to pitch their products to Walmart customers, who then voted for the ones they would like to see Walmart stock.

Over a million votes were cast, narrowing the field down to three products that will now be available to purchase in Walmart: a DIY-screw replacement system for glasses; an airtight plate cover for food storage; and the overall winner - a socially conscious bottled water whose company donates its profits to provide clean water supplies.

The next step - Big Data

These examples are innovative approaches to using social media to encourage sales and generation of inventory, but the area that I think will prove the most fascinating is how WalmartLabs will leverage “Big Data” to develop the retailer’s ability to predict market demand and so optimise their supply.

Understanding and fulfilling local demand

This is where the situation becomes truly interesting - stores will be able to optimise their inventory according to their area’s specific tastes and seasonal demands.

One of the examples WalmartLabs’ Venky Harinarayan offers is that of college football. By monitoring social media buzz during college football season, Walmart is able to determine when discussion about college football in a certain locality is beginning to heat up. This lets them know when they should be stocking products that are related to the season and local teams.

Creating demand and making recommendations

As ShopyCat has demonstrated, recommendation engines enable customers to discover new and relevant products, either for themselves or their friends. As I mentioned above, ShopyCat currently directs customers to alternative suppliers, but from understanding customer behaviour and using Big Data, a logical evolution would be for these alternatives to become increasingly niche as Walmart develops supply according to consumer taste.

The ability to bring all of these channels together in-store via mobile will be significant. WalmartLabs are developing in-store navigation using mobile, so I would expect to see apps that offer customers information and the location of recommended items, or prompts for items of interest that are already in close proximity. A reminder of a friend’s upcoming birthday and interest in fishing, while you are passing the sports section, for example, would help you make a relevant purchase while saving time and hassle.

Ratings & reviews are the new advertising

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Image courtesy of shutterstock

Image courtesy of shutterstock

In a world of perfect information, why should anyone trust adverts?

If you can uncover the experiences of real buyers before you make a purchase, then it would be crazy to ignore them.


That’s why ratings and reviews have become the no-brainer of social media for retailers. And it’s also why they are a key element in the social media strategy of other brands and companies.

I’ve just been reading the most recent report by TrendWatching (the same people who create the excellent Springwise newsletter) and it’s focussed on the rise of reviews and their displacement of the power of advertising. There’s little especially new in the report, but it has a few good reminders of the importance and power of this trend and a couple of points towards the future:

  • 70% of online consumers trust opinions posted online [Neilsen]
  • For the generation growing up with the web “reviewing will be a way of life forever
  • Real time reviews will grow in importance (Twitter and Google’s new search point to that)
  • Reviewers like me - it will become easier to find people whose opinions are likely to match your own

And there was also a healthy wake-up call for those who are anxious of allowing review for fear of negativity: “bad reviews are not the problem, but a symptom”. If people are saying negative things, you probably need to listen, or your business will suffer.

Another reason not to worry about bad reviews is that most people are generous reviewers.  See this previous post for more on Why Reviews Lie.

If you need help implementing ratings and reviews on your site, then do get in touch with FreshNetworks. Ratings and reviews are just one of the many social media tools in our software platform.

Social media in retail – monetising and building value

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337/365: The Big MoneyImage by DavidDMuir via Flickr

Last week we ran the first event as part of our Social Media Training series - focused on the retail industry and attracting speakers including James from ASOS, Joanne Jacobs and our own Helen. The session was focused particularly on what those in retail could and should be doing in the current economic climate to use social media to help them build advocacy, innovate, gain insights from consumers and involve them in the business.

There are some great case studies of social media being used well in retail (and we’ve given some examples of online communities in the retail industry before) but, as with other industries, also cases of social media and online communities not living up to their promise. The session showed what works when you engage people online, a case study of how ASOS have built and launched their new community ASOS Life and a great presentation from Joanne Jacobs on how to build and monetise online communities.

FreshNetworks presentation: Case studies in social networks monetisation
View more presentations from joannejacobs.

The presentations provoked plenty of discussion and reaction. We’re running more events in our Social Media Training seminar series, if you’re interested in finding out more, coming along or even speaking then do let us know.

Social Media in Retail – A FreshNetworks Training Seminar

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Image via CrunchBase

We all know that social media is all about sharing. We talk about collaborating and learning from each other all the time on this blog. But we’re more than just big talkers here at FreshNetworks – we like to put our money where our mouth is. So without further ado, allow me to announce the FreshNetworks Social Media Training Series.

This set of half-day seminars over the course of the year will focus on social media education and practical training. Each session will delve into a particular sector, focusing on the ways that social media can be used for marketing and insight through case studies and discussion. We’ll have speakers from brands who’ve used social media to tell their success stories and dispense useful tips and lessons learned along the way. And most importantly we’ll provide a forum for all of our guests to chat, share thoughts and ask those burning social media questions.

The first seminar is less than 2 weeks away and will focus on the retail sector. With James Hart of Asos.com speaking about the brilliant new online community Asos Life, and Joanne Jacobs of Xenial (creators of gurgle.com) helping us all understand the monetization of social media, we think it’s going to be a really informative and engaging event. Interested in attending? Sign up on our FreshNetworks Retail 2.0 event page. But hurry, places are filling up quickly!

Sign up for the event here

  • Big Brands in Social Media: Ford and Southwest Airlines (futurelab.net)
  • An Online Community Packing An ROI Punch (socialmediatoday.com)
  • Social Media Marketing (sociallyminded.co.uk)
  • Lack of knowledge hampers social media marketing. Let us help. (freshnetworks.com)
  • 4 Tips to Successful Strategy in Social Media (kylelacy.com)