Monday, November 26, 2012

Targeting @WalmartLabs

Humans are profoundly efficient at ingesting a wide array of disparate signals and internally aggregating these patterns together to form “profiles” of objects, events and actions that can be recalled when confronted with analogous situations in the future. 

Consider the following:  

Most of us from a young age are quite comfortable playing catch with a baseball.  The brain has been exposed to catching baseballs under different lighting conditions, various velocities and spin in which a partner might be tossing the ball to you, and consequently has established mental profiles of varying resolutions of what is needed, mechanically, to successfully catch this baseball.  Now, if someone were to toss you a dog bone in lieu of the traditional baseball, you’d likely be able to catch this a-spherical object with ease (assuming it wasn’t the femur of an extinct mastodon!). 

Fast forward to the modern world in which the amount of data that is being generated in a day or two is equivalent to all information generated up until the beginning of the 21st century. Humans are often times overwhelmed with reasoning under this bombardment of signals and often times rely on machines to comb through the vast amounts of data to form aggregates, which humans can leverage as useful information. 

This explosion in data is particularly present in modern eCommerce, for example  Customers are quite good at recognizing products and brands that they have had a previous affinity to.  However, as the number of items in retailer’s catalogs seem to be increasing an order of magnitude every few years, it becomes a challenging problem, especially in the digital world, to help customers sift through the vast space of items they and their family might enjoy.

Fortunately, big data tools largely developed to handle processing of the immense amounts of data being generated by the consumer web allow us within @WalmartLabs, to improve the online customer shopping experience.  These big data tools, in conjunction with the appropriate machine learning and information retrieval methodologies can profoundly improve the eCommerce shopping experience by helping customers navigate through the noise of millions if not tens of millions of items to present a set of relevant and delightfully discovered products that an individual might enjoy.

The targeting team within @WalmartLabs ingests just about every clickable action on what individuals buy online and in stores, trends on Twitter, local weather deviations, and other local external events such as the San Francisco Giants winning the World Series.  We capture these events and intelligently tease out meaningful patterns so our millions of customers have a shopping experience that is individually personalized.

Given the enormous amounts of data collected it often poses the question of what does one do to understand all of it.  Our big data tools help us personalize the shopping experience and our psychological analysis helps us to dissect even deeper meaning behind patterns in the data.  We apply behavioral economics to find clarity behind both the rational and irrational behavior shoppers exhibit. By integrating a psychological approach we provide a holistic experience that takes in data and reflects an accurate picture of customer activity and what consumers might be seeking.

Our targeting team comprised of PhD’s in computer science, statistics, signal processing and behavioral psychologists, has developed methodologies which aggregate all this disparate data together (in the “right” way) to formalize “good” recommendations or implicit “neighbors”.  Historical buying patterns of our customers provide wonderful insights into items these customers are also likely to enjoy by utilizing collaborative filtering methodologies, e.g., correlation structure. However, transaction patterns alone can be enriched by also incorporating items which were browsed prior to any purchase as well as location areas shoppers might be in across the United States.  Due to block structure in these large covariance matrices (and auto-correlation), you end up with a scenario in which the “relevance” of the recommended items to users ends up being greater than the sum of the parts.  In other words, the model produces more relevant recommendations when trained on all these data sources (when appropriately aggregated) than any one in isolation. 

In the same spirit in which a customer may seek out the counsel of her closest (and likely most similar friends) when assessing the right pair of head phones, our high-dimensional statistical models can implicitly replicate this process of inheriting items by “close” individuals.  The targeting team will often times take each user, represented by every item they’ve ever interacted with on the site, as well as demographic and geo data, and project users and items to the “appropriate” low-dimensional subspace. 

This projection enables us to believe that users who behave similarly in all their patterns are likely to be nearby similar users.  Additionally, items which are similar end up being nearby each other in this lower dimensional space.   We are then able to establish who are a given users “closest” friends in this subspace (geometrically speaking), and then allow this particular individual to “inherit” the items interacted by these very similar neighbors, often times resulting in spot on recommendations.

Regarding the head phones example, such a procedure often times results in recommending the niche higher-end head phones rather than lower quality ones based upon this projection and neighborhood derivation.

The @WalmartLabs targeting team is able to replicate an age old process of seeking out item recommendations from their trusted peers and friends and extend this to the digital age in which a user receives a highly relevant and delightful head phone recommendation via email while being completely unaware of their implicit, geometrically similar “friends”, who helped make this recommendation a reality.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Food is personal, food is social

Goodies Co. is here to help you discover new foods you’ll love.

If you’re anything like us, you often find yourself thinking, “I’m so tired of eating the same old thing.” But branching out can always be difficult. Why? Because trying new foods is expensive, time-consuming and risky. What if it doesn’t taste good? It’s money down the drain, not to mention a dull and very disappointing meal.

That’s no way to live.

And that’s where Goodies Co. comes in. 

For just a $7 per month subscription including taxes and shipping, the Goodies Co. box features 5-8 delicious new foods hand-picked and delivered directly to your doorstep. We always try to get you as much value as possible for your $7, and are proud to say that our box costs less than half of the sum of its parts if sold individually.

You get to receive a surprise every month, sample new foods, and expand your palate without breaking the bank.  We always try to include a wide variety of foods, from healthy, organic, artisan, and international, and definitely steer clear of being too niche (all organic, all gluten-free, etc.). We want everyone to be able to enjoy Goodies Co! And whatever you love most from a Goodies Co. box is always available for purchase in full size from our online storefront.

We also believe in rewarding our loyal customers, and offer points for reviews our customers leave about products on Goodies Co. Points can soon be redeemed for discounts on future boxes and items in the store, ensuring that Goodies Co. subscribers keep getting new products they’ll love.

Products that are considered for inclusion in a Goodies Co. Taster’s Box are always tasted by the Goodies Co. team, and tasted by volunteers from our Tasting Lab, where each potential product is graded for ultimate deliciousness.

Goodies Co. is a new experiential ecommerce site developed by @WalmartLabs in Silicon Valley.

Given Walmart’s tremendous reach in the grocery sector, we saw an opportunity to build upon the market in new ways. Goodies Co. was born out of Walmart’s firm ties to food, while also innovating and refining upon the core pillars of discovery commerce. Goodies Co. is bridge-building between physical fulfillment of a subscription box, and a rich associated experience on the Goodies Co. site and social channels. The opportunity ahead of Goodies Co. is tremendous; by reaching both those that love the emerging discovery commerce sector and subscription boxes, while also getting interesting foods to customers in new ways.

Try us out, and let Goodies Co. show you just how good life can be. Sign up with your email address now at Goodies Co, and feel free to follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more delicious surprises. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Mupd8 – The @WalmartLabs Real-time Platform

In recent years, the world has seen an explosive growth in the volume of real-time data streams. Once the preserve of stock markets and day traders, real-time data is now ubiquitously available to consumers through popular services such as Twitter and Facebook. With the availability and growth of real-time data comes the inevitable problem of real-time data overload, and the need for systems that can separate the signal from the noise.

As we began working with firehoses from various social media sites, we recognized the need for a general-purpose real-time stream processing platform that could address the issues of scale and performance -- and enable our stream processing applications to focus on the quality of their generated content. “Mupd8” came into existence to fulfill that need. At the highest level, Mupd8 does for Fast Data, what Hadoop and the MapReduce computation model do for Big Data. Mupd8 was formerly known as Muppet within @WalmartLabs and in our peer-reviewed publications.

A MapUpdate application is a workflow of map and update operators.

With Mupd8, you can easily write applications to process these (or your own) firehoses using the MapUpdate framework, a simple way to express streaming computation. By writing your application as a collection of customized operators map and update, you can focus your programming on your application logic and let Mupd8 handle the load-and data-distribution across multiple CPU cores and machines for you. For example, an application can be written to subscribe to the Twitter firehose of every tweet written; such an application can analyze the tweets to determine Twitter's most influential users, or identify suddenly prominent events as they occur. Alternatively, an application can be written to subscribe to a log of all user activity on a Web site; such an application can detect service problems users face as they occur, or compute suggestions for users' next steps based on up-to-the-moment activity.

Mupd8 enables @WalmartLabs to leverage Walmart’s business data and product taxonomy to extract valuable content in real-time from the largest streams of social media content. As an example, we extract and collect videos, images, location information and status updates from these massive flowing streams. We then categorize them and track such information as key influencers, relevant videos, images and web pages for each product.

To be effective at separating the signal from the noise in real-time, Mupd8 not only has to provide a simple computation model for stream processing applications, but also has to be highly available since any downtime causes loss of real-time information. This, in turn, requires persistence of the rapidly changing content generated by the applications. Low latency -- the time between receiving an update and updating the affected nodes -- is a key requirement, since the half-life of social media content is short. Lastly, Mupd8 has to be scalable across three dimensions -- increasing stream rates, the size of the taxonomy and the complexity of supported applications.

To address these requirements for high availability, low latency and scalability, the current Mupd8 architecture leverages open-source solutions, including Cassandra, which has proven to be a high-performance and scalable key-value store (though Mupd8 adds a caching layer to minimize the impact of its higher network read latency).

The @WalmartLabs Mupd8 platform has already supported more than a dozen sophisticated stream applications processing over 300 million status updates per day, gathering real-time information on our product taxonomy. Learn more about our experience (see our VLDB 2012 paper) and check out the newest version, available under the Apache License 2.0, for yourself at Get started on your application with "Starting a New Application in MUPD8," available in the Mupd8 source tree and

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mobilizing our store customers

As we continue to improve the mobile commerce experience, we’re very excited to roll out major updates to our iPhone and iPad apps for Walmart in the United States.  For the iPhone, it’s all about in-store aisle location and our new In-Store Mode.  For the iPad, we’ve introduced a new interactive Local Ad feature.  These new mobile enhancements put more power at the fingertips of our customers, allowing them to shop our brand anytime, anywhere.

iPhone: In-store Aisle Location
We’ve expanded the in-store aisle location feature to help customers easily find products on their shopping lists in our stores.  As customers add items to their mobile shopping list, they can also see the aisle where they’ll find their product.  Previously a limited beta,  we now offer the in-store aisle location feature for all U.S. stores and thousands of products across consumables, grocery, electronics and toys.

In addition, customers can set their local store within the app, plan their visit and create a shopping list at home by scanning, typing, or speaking items to buy.  One of the unique features of our app is that we pull item prices from your local Walmart store and calculate total price in real-time as items are added to shopping lists.  We’re able to do that for any of our 3,800 Walmart stores across the U.S. so no matter where you happen to be, only our app helps you see the estimated total of your Walmart shopping trip before ever leaving home. 

iPhone: In-Store Mode
This tool was specifically created to help customers while they’re shopping in our retail stores. Now, when you launch the Walmart for iPhone app from one of our stores in the U.S., you will be prompted to enter In-Store Mode.  Features include scanning – price checking from product barcodes or learning more about products and special offers displayed in-store as QR Codes – and easy access to the Local Ad product list and general store information.  

iPad: Local Ad
We’ve introduced an interactive Local Ad experience that presents our customers with a preview of store specials and featured products. The format of our iPad Local Ad will be familiar to customers who are used to flipping through our printed Local Ads. They will be able to browse our Local Ads from their iPad page-by-page, with the ability to tap on a product to view more information, and purchase the item online or by visiting the store.

You can download our iPhone and iPad apps from the App Store.

Walmart for iPhone:

Walmart for iPad:

Happy shopping!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Get on the shelf Contest Winners Announced!

Today we announced the final winners of our popular Get on the shelf contest: HumanKind Water, PlateTopper and SnapIt Eyeglass Repair Kit which will be sold at

More than 4,000 inventors, entrepreneurs and small businesses from across the country entered the contest to have the opportunity to be carried on and in Walmart U.S. stores.  The most popular products ranged from categories entered were home improvement,  to personalized products items and health and wellness.  Over one million votes were cast by the public to compete for the opportunity to be carried at and in Walmart U.S. stores. The public cast over one million votes through Facebook or text.

Throughout the contest, the winning inventors went the distance to market their participation through word of mouth. Humankind Water transformed its homepage into a “war room” completely dedicated to getting votes. PlateTopper deployed humorous videos and social marketing tactics to raise visibility, including a YouTube video, which has been viewed more than two million times. Nancy of SnapIt even went to the NBC Today Show’s plaza in New York where her assistant dressed as a giant screw and was seen on national television with a sign asking for votes.

We are now at the end of an amazing adventure.  Get on the Shelf surpassed our expectations and surprised us all here.  We congratulate the winners for their creativity and passion and thank every single one of the 4,000 contestants for taking a leap to join in the first contest ever of this kind from.  

Get on the shelf, launched in January of this year where contestants sent in videos of their latest inventions to be voted on by the public.  During contest voting, nearly 95 percent of the participants received a vote via Facebook or text. 

We thank all contestants for their participation and enthusiasm for the "Get on the shelf" contest. We congratulate them for their creativity and passion. We are amazed by the visibility so many have received for their products, whether online or through traditional news media, and we hope the boost in awareness We hope the GOTS experience accelerates their your business going forward.

The Walmart Get on the shelf team

For more information, visit

Thursday, April 5, 2012


Back in January, we announced a nationwide contest called Get on the Shelf. Get on the Shelf allows anyone the chance to get their product on Walmart shelves.
We have been inspired and amazed at the products entries from around the country. Over 4,000 contestants participated with products ranging from household and food items to wellness and green ones.
Every product, from the fork designed specifically for a dog, to the gadget that turns an ordinary water bottle into a baby milk bottle, reflected the creativity and passion of our contestants.
After the first round of voting where over one million votes were cast, here are the ten finalists that move to the next round listed in alphabetical order:
- Bios Clinical Acne System is an acne system that uses topical probiotics to treat adolescent and adult acne.
- Humankind Water gives 100 percent of its net profits to provide clean drinking water for some of the one billion people in this world dying without it.
- Mr. Spritz Mysterious Shirts are entertaining t-shirts containing hidden images that appear when the garment gets wet and disappear when dry.
- Plate Topper transforms dinner plates into airtight food storage containers to save meals, leftovers and snacks. They are dishwasher-safe, microwave-safe and 100 percent BPA-free.
- Sola-Bag Forever Carry Refrigerator is a lunch bag that stays cold forever by generating energy from solar power and indoor lighting.
- Soleeze Spring Loaded Insoles are spring-loaded insoles and shock absorbers that fit into any shoe or boot and last for years.
- SnapIt Eyeglass Repair Kit is an easy way to fix your sunglasses or eyeglasses in 30 seconds.
- SUSIE Magazine is a bimonthly Christian print magazine and online sisterhood for teen girls promoting healthy relationships, good role models and positive self-image.
- Veterans Farm Datil Pepper Salt is a datil-infused kosher salt created at a Veterans Farm, where disabled combat veterans are taught farm skills to help them overcome physical and mental barriers and get jobs.
- We the People Bracelet features silver sterling beads with ingrained detailed descriptions of the Amendments to the Bill of Rights.
Thank you to all for your participation. We hope you have enjoyed the experience and made new connections along the way.
The final round of voting for the contest begins April 11. Please cast a vote for your favorite via text message or Facebook.
Let's have a fun race…and may the journey be the best reward of all.
For more information and to vote, visit

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Community is pushing the Mobile Web Platform

At @WalmartLabs, our focus is to develop technologies that provide an innovative shopping experience to millions of users around the world. Our customers spend their time on a variety of platforms of their choosing, so we aim to be where they are. One of the key platforms is the Web, and much effort has been spent over the last few years to ensure that users visit Web sites via rich Web runtimes. The mobile Web used to be about feature phones getting minimal content, but that world has changed quickly over the last few years and the mobile device in your hand has an amazing engine that has the power to do as much as your desktop computer.

There have been a number of efforts to standardize features for the mobile Web, but none of them have taken off. Partly, this is due to the fast evolution and change from the world of WAP to the world of HTML5 on the phone. Today, it has reached a point of critical mass where people are looking to push development of the mobile Web platform. This push won't happen with only certain perspectives, and needs broad participation across the industry.

We have been talking to Facebook about the issues surrounding the mobile Web for quite some time, and I am very excited to have @WalmartLabs be a part of a new community effort, the forming of W3C Core Mobile Web Platform Community Group whose goals are clear:

Accelerate the adoption of the Mobile Web as a compelling platform for the development of modern mobile Web applications.

The Community Group will bring developers, equipment manufacturers, browser vendors, operators and other relevant members of the industry together to agree on core features developers can depend on; create related conformance test suites; and provide to W3C (and non-W3C) groups use cases, scenarios, and other input to enable successful mobile Web app development.

A critical topic to address is for most important specs to be supported across a wide range of browsers. But, support is only half the battle. The quality and performance of a feature is crucial as well. This is why we are looking forward to seeing rich test suites that go into that side of things too.

We love the Web, but users -- and thus developers -- demand that the platform evolves faster than it has to date. As we push the boundaries of the mobile Web at @WalmartLabs, we look forward to the opportunity to discuss the needs of users and developers as we work with community members to make the Web a better place.

Join us!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Welcome to Guna, our new head of @WalmartLabs India

Just a few short months ago, we announced our intention to set up @WalmartLabs India. Since then, we’ve added several incredibly talented people to our Bangalore team in the areas of machine learning, social analytics and big data infrastructure. Today, I’m delighted and excited to welcome the newest member of the Labs India team, who will also be its leader: Gunaranjan Pemmaraju (aka Guna).

Our search attracted some of the top talent in India:  people who have set up and managed large operations in India for globally recognized Internet and technology companies. As part of the process, I met many of these incredibly talented individuals. What attracted me most to Guna is the combination of his technical depth, leadership skills, business acumen, passion for excellence, and, of course, his love for cricket (Ok, I was just kidding about the cricket).

Guna is a seasoned technology leader who comes to @WalmartLabs from Bangalore, where in his role as Director of Engineering responsible for global payments, he set up and grew teams that delivered business-critical technology and services. Prior to, Guna was vice president of product development at i2 Technologies, where he held various product, technology and leadership roles in an 11-year career spanning across Dallas and Bangalore.  Guna holds a bachelor’s degree from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras and a master’s degree in business from the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta.

I would like to take a moment to thank everyone from @WalmartLabs Silicon Valley who contributed to the founding of @WalmartLabs Bangalore.   Their efforts under the guidance of STS Prasad, our Vice President of Infrastructure here in the Valley, enabled us to move from vision to reality in record time.  As I welcome Guna to our group, I am confident that he will hire, develop and deliver innovative technologies that will accelerate the new generation of e-commerce for millions of Walmart customers around the world.

Jai Ho!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Get Your Product on Our Shelves

Have a great product that you wish you could sell through Walmart? Do you wish Walmart carried your favorite product, but does not today? Wish no longer! Just in time for the premiere of the new season of Americal Idol we have launched our own contest. Welcome to Get On The Shelf a new contest similar to American Idol where we are searching for the next great product. The latest in a series of innovations from @WalmartLabs, Get On The Shelf offers anyone with a product the chance to make it to the major leagues and have their product carried by Walmart.
How does it work? Pretty simple actually. Submit a video of your product to Get On the Shelf and then, when voting starts, rally your family, friends and fans to vote for it. The product video with the most votes wins. That's it. Simple. Any product in any category currently covered by Walmart is eligible - from housewares and electronics to toys and apparel. Learn more here .
Who will win to have their product carried for millions across the United States. It could be you!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Small is the New Big...

I’m excited to announce that Small Society, a highly respected mobile agency, is joining the @WalmartLabs mobile team. Small Society embodies what has made us successful in 2011 and will help us accelerate that success in 2012.
As I reflect on why this is such a great opportunity, it is clear that there are three things that matter most to building great teams:

Talent Matters
The power of current mobile SDKs means that small groups of talented people can deliver incredible products. This has always been true in software development, but the concentration factor is even more pronounced in today’s smartphone apps. When looking to expand our team, we were incredibly selective.
As we got to know the Small Society founders, they impressed us with their understanding of mobile platforms, their passion for building great products, and their awareness of the unique opportunities for mobile in the retail space. They’ve delivered apps for huge brands, from the Democratic National Committee to Starbucks, all from a small office over a kebab restaurant in downtown Portland. We quickly realized that Small Society could be a potent addition to our existing @WalmartLabs Oregon office.
“Portland?” you say? Yes–Portland! When we acquired Set Direction in April 2011, one of their employees was a crack iOS developer based in Portland. Since then, we have recruited a few more talented developers in the area. Our Portland office works closely with the rest of the team here in Silicon Valley, and together we will deliver world-class experiences for all of Walmart’s global businesses.

Product Matters
What we loved about our first interactions with the Small Society founders was their laser focus on product. They showed us their portfolio and they critiqued ours; it was refreshing to meet a team with concrete ideas on how to make our experiences stronger. The conversations were facilitated with working software more than PowerPoint­–it was great! We didn’t talk about abstract “this is the way it should be done” concepts; instead, we looked at what they had already done and how their product development skills could be applied to our businesses. We came away impressed. One example we looked at was the Zipcar app. The app is a spot-on intersection of technology, brand and business. Named one of Time Magazine's “50 Best iPhone Apps for 2011,” it enables Zipcar members to find and book a Zipcar quickly, but also to honk the horn and lock or unlock the doors—all from their iPhone
From the other side of the table, with our millions of weekly customers across dozens of countries and businesses that range from groceries and pharmacy to financial services, we offered them an unparalleled variety of challenges, and they too were impressed.

Customers Matter
At Walmart, our target market is one of the broadest in the world. If you go to Walmart every week for all your groceries or if you live 100 miles from the nearest Walmart but want everyday low prices shipped to your front door, we want to be your mobile experience be your mobile experience be it iPhone, iPad, or Android.
We’re here to serve people with busy lives and much bigger concerns than the coolness of our apps. If we provide them a way to save time, save money, and get done with their shopping so they can enjoy their loved ones, we’ve achieved success. We obsess over the small details so our customer doesn’t have to. We saw that clear customer focus in the Small Society portfolio and in the people we met.
A focus on talent, product, and customer­s embodied in small teams of talented people – this is what has mattered most to us as we have built the @Walmartlabs mobile team. Our ambitions aren’t small – we believe that mobile can have an impact on every part of the shopping experience for Walmart customers, whether in-store or online. We’re very excited to have such talented new team members to help us make that impact.