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New Polaris search engine is already swelling Wal-Mart’s coffers

Polaris, the new site search tool recent­ly launched by Wal-Mart Stores Inc., is already gen­er­at­ing extra rev­enue after just three months.

The revamped algo­rithm for’s site search engine dis­plays results based on three mea­sures of prod­uct pop­u­lar­i­ty: most recent­ly pur­chased, most post­ed about on Face­book and most pos­i­tive reviews.  Items which oth­er cus­tomers have recent­ly searched for or clicked on are also displayed.

Smart search­ing

The new search engine, which was built over ten months by just 15 engi­neers in @WalMartLabs (the company’s team of mobile and e‑commerce plat­form staff), pro­vides plen­ty of food for thought for the inno­v­a­tive e‑commerce ana­lyst and e‑commerce man­ag­er alike. The Labs’ vice pres­i­dent, Sri Sub­ra­ma­ni­am, said that it under­stands cus­tomer intent much bet­ter than its pre­de­ces­sor, Ende­ca, adding, “retail­ers embrac­ing e‑commerce have to very quick­ly turn into tech com­pa­nies — and search is the crown jew­el of this.”

In an inter­view with the, Sub­ra­ma­ni­am revealed that, since its imple­men­ta­tion just three months ago, Wal-Mart’s online sales have surged by 10 to 15 percent.

Depart­ing from the con­ven­tion­al search tech­nol­o­gy used by oth­er bricks-and-mor­tar stores for their e‑commerce wings, Polaris has tak­en a leaf out of pure­ly online retail­ers’ design books.  E‑commerce enti­ties like EBay and Ama­zon use search tech­nol­o­gy that con­stant­ly refines the search expe­ri­ence. Just think of search­ing for a book on Ama­zon, as soon as it’s dis­played, cus­tomers see: “Peo­ple who bought this also bought X”, where X refers to one or more relat­ed prod­ucts.  The com­bi­na­tion of search accu­ra­cy and offer­ing a range of relat­ed prod­ucts has proved high­ly suc­cess­ful commercially.

It’s all in the semantics

The new devel­op­ment reflects the fact that sev­er­al of the engi­neers respon­si­ble for Polaris came from the seman­tics tech­nol­o­gy firm Kos­mix Corp, which Wal-Mart acquired last year.  Seman­tics tech­nol­o­gy focus­es on what con­sumers mean when they enter search terms or make com­ments online.

As Sub­ra­man­ian explains, the old­er, less seman­ti­cal­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed search engine was like­ly to dis­play dog hous­es when con­sumers entered the word “house.” The new search engine brings up DVDs for the hit TV show “House” at the top of the list, which turns out to be what most peo­ple are actu­al­ly look­ing for.  It also dis­plays sub­cat­e­gories so cus­tomers can browse through relat­ed prod­ucts.  As you can see, smart search­ing just came to Wal-Mart.

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