Walmart.com Creates New Product Search Engine

Generating web traffic from a host of sources is a significant priority for both pure-play and hybrid online retailers. Once on the site, it takes another set of tools to keep the customer engaged and moving along the path to purchase (site layout, social sharing tools, ratings & reviews, and a product search engine onsite, to name a few). Today, Walmart showed how it plans to evolve the customers’ online experience on Walmart.com by announcing its newest enhancement: Polaris, a product search engine developed by a group of engineers @WalmartLabs to help increase search conversion.

In addition to Polaris powering Walmart.com, it also is the search brains behind Walmart’s native app and mobile website.

How does it work?
This search engine is the direct result of the technology behind Kosmix, one of the earliest companies that created @WalmartLabs (for a more in-depth look @WalmartLabs, read this post). Kosmix developed a host of algorithms that would help prioritize social inputs (such as social media interactions within a certain point of a store or related to specific topics) and rank those within a search engine. For example, if I am searching for a video game on Walmart.com, results might be prioritized by the number of Facebook Likes for a given product, relevant tweets, Pins from Pinterest or customer reviews.

Walmart.com’s newest search engine, Polaris will incorporate all of these inputs and more into ranking products that show up search. Kosmix was best known for their semantic technology embedded into search, which simply means specific product searches are correlated with one another. If I search “baseball bat” on Walmart.com, the search engine might pick up on baseball equipment or sporting goods as an over-arching category, broadening cross-sell opportunity.

Lastly, Polaris will incorporate a plethora of historical click-stream data from customers, known as “engagement scoring” based on previous searches and what customers then do after those searches.

Positive early results
Polaris has slowly been integrated into Walmart.com over the past few weeks and is now live on the entire site. The company has stated that they have seen between a 10-15% boost in search conversion, a search-to-sale metric. Additionally, online product views have gone up approximately 20% with the new search engine.

Retailer & brand implications:
This is a big step for Walmart’s e-commerce initiative as Amazon is the only other retailer that has made significant headway in online product search, and who is currently the well-established leader in search. Based on early positive results from Walmart.com, look for other tier 1 retailers to take similar approaches in evolving internal product search on the site through their own tools or acquisitions.

Brands should be watching results carefully on Walmart.com. Certain items may be more conducive to search than others in a semantically and socially driven search engine. Products that may trend higher on social networks or have a higher affinity to stay within a basket after a search could rank higher than their counterparts. It will be interesting to see how certain category sales trend in the comings months, especially around the holidays on Walmart.com

About justin

Justin is an Analyst with RNG, covering Ecommerce and emerging technology trends and their effects on the digital landscape of retailing. Prior to joining RNG, Justin was an Emerging Technology Analyst at TowerGroup, covering mobile payments, mobile banking, and social media trends as well as a Business Content Producer at a new media startup, Streetwise Media. Justin graduated from Franklin & Marshall College with a dual degree in Economics and Latin and his hobbies include traveling and sports.

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