Media & Entertainment

How Your Social Data Will Power Walmart’s E-Commerce Revolution


Walmart is planning to launch several new projects this holiday season based on the technology it acquired from the social media startup Kosmix back in April. Kosmix’s platform previously powered multiple services, including a Twitter search site called TweetBeat, a health vertical called RightHealth and a homepage where users could search the Web by topic. But the core of what Kosmix was building was something called the “social genome” –  a way to organize the content in social networks in order to connect people with the information that mattered to them.

Now, that same technology is in the hands of Walmart, the world’s largest retailer.

These days, does around $6 billion per year in sales vs.’s $34 billion, according to analysts. “Walmart had fallen behind in e-commerce,” says Anand Rajaraman, Kosmix Co-Founder now SVP of Walmart’s Global e-Commerce division, “and the board realized the issue was serious.”

Something had to change.

Although Rajaraman wouldn’t go into detail about the handful of projects Walmart has planned, it’s easy to read between the lines at guess at their nature – social search on, personalized alerts on rollbacks sent to email or mobile, Facebook-enabled social wish lists or gifting applications, and who knows what else may come in the future.

In April, when Walmart acquired Kosmix, it had already raised $55 million in funding from a number of investors throughout the years. What made Kosmix appealing was not just the technology itself, but also the people behind the technology: founders Venky Harinarayan and Anand Rajaraman, successful e-commerce pioneers who had sold their previous company, Junglee, to Amazon. At Amazon, they worked with CEO Jeff Bezos to transform Amazon into a retail platform, and invented the technology that now powers Mechanical Turk.

When Kosmix was acquired, it became the nucleus of a new group at Walmart known as @Walmart Labs, based in Silicon Valley. At WalmartLabs, the founders have been busy developing projects which will integrate the Kosmix technology into Walmart’s online and mobile offerings, including its e-commerce website, Facebook pages and more. There are three main areas of focus for the team: search, recommendations and serendipity.

Social Search and Recommendations

In search, Kosmix’s technology will pull data from Facebook and Twitter to improve your search experience on By monitoring your ever-changing interests on topics like your favorite sports team or band, for example, Walmart will be able to serve better recommendations when you search its site. It might work this way:  you search for a new smartphone, and Walmart recommends one you friend just liked on Facebook .

Walmart plans to leverage your social data outside of search, too. It plans to directly recommend products on its homepage. At Amazon, explains Rajaraman, there’s too much emphasis placed on your purchases for recommendations. “Purchases are a window into your interests,” he says “but they’re a small window.” Anyone who has ever purchased a gift at Amazon only to be suggested similar items upon every subsequent login knows the problem. Instead of recommending more travel guides for Paris, long after your trip was complete, or more power tools, long after Dad’s birthday has passed, Walmart plans to recommend things it actually knows you like. Whether or not it can succeed where so many others have failed will soon be put to the test.

And these tools can be used to analyze your friends’ behavior, too, in order to offer wish list suggestions based on their interests. Assuming they get it done, the way Walmart is leveraging Twitter and Facebook here could be an industry first.

Personalized Alerts

If that sort of deep dive into your personal preferences sounds creepy, well, at least this is an opt-in system. Rajaraman says Walmart will never use consumers’ data in any way beyond what it has permission for, and your’e in control of that. But he thinks consumers will be willing to share there information in return for tangible benefits. Benefits, like discounts? While Walmart has no plans introduce huge discounts like Groupon offers (it’s happy to provide “everyday low prices,” says Rajaraman), it will be able to personalize alerts on items it puts on “rollback,” its own system for promoting sale items.

Instead of spamming you with notifications, Kosmix’s technology will be able to identify what sort of rollbacks you, as an individual, would like. This is what he means by “serendipity” – alerts that will surprise and delight consumers.

You may even be able to one day receive in-store notifications as you pass by items of interest that match those pulled from the Kosmix system. As for what technology would be used on the mobile side, Rajaraman couldn’t say. But the company is experimenting with several approaches for providing mobile services, including things like NFC (near field communication), barcode scanning and in-store geo-fencing. However, these fall outside of the @WalmartLabs team’s domain – they’re more focused on the data.

The first projects built on top of Kosmix’s technology will launch this holiday season.

Image credit: code poet on flickr

More TechCrunch

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

23 hours ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

1 day ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

Sony Music Group has sent letters to more than 700 tech companies and music streaming services to warn them not to use its music to train AI without explicit permission.…

Sony Music warns tech companies over ‘unauthorized’ use of its content to train AI

Winston Chi, Butter’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that “most parties, including our investors and us, are making money” from the exit.

GrubMarket buys Butter to give its food distribution tech an AI boost

The investor lawsuit is related to Bolt securing a $30 million personal loan to Ryan Breslow, which was later defaulted on.

Bolt founder Ryan Breslow wants to settle an investor lawsuit by returning $37 million worth of shares

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, launched an enterprise version of the prominent social network in 2015. It always seemed like a stretch for a company built on a consumer…

With the end of Workplace, it’s fair to wonder if Meta was ever serious about the enterprise