Anyone who is has traversed the entrance to any Walmart across the globe has been greeted with this familiar refrain: “Welcome to Walmart. Enjoy your shopping.” Based on its latest acquisition of mobile app developer Small Society, the company is extending that to include mobile commerce, as well.
Walmart, through its @WalmartLabs subsidiary, keeps moving further and further toward the goal of making mobile and social commerce a real value-add for its customers. “Through the innovative fusion of retail, social and mobile, @WalmartLabs is redefining Commerce for the largest retailer worldwide,” proclaims the website. Fueling this shift is the continued acquisition of technology startups, a roster that includes Kosmix, One Riot, Grapple and, now, Small Society.
Founded three years ago by Raven Zachary and James Keller, the Portland, Oregon-based company has a portfolio that consists of such brands as Starbucks, Zipcar and Whole Foods.
“As an outside consulting agency, there’s only so much impact you can have, and rarely do you get the chance to work with a client over an extended period of time, iterating and responding to customer feedback and interest,” Zachary said on his blog regarding the acquisition. “Walmart provides our team with the biggest canvas as the world’s largest company and the world’s largest employer.”
According to the announcement, Walmart turned to Small Society for three reasons: talent, product and customers.
“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,” said @WalmartLabs vice-president of mobile products Paul Cousineau.
Equally impressed with the team Small Society would be joining, Zachary remarked, “The size of the opportunity coupled with the caliber of the talent already assembled made this an easy decision for us.”
In making its decision, @WalmartLabs banked on the company’s deep experience in iPhone app development. “[W]e looked at what they had already done and how their product development skills could be applied to our businesses,” added Cousineau.
That “already done” focus appears to be Walmart’s modus operandi in each of these acquisitions. Rather than build from the ground up, it’s easier just to buy companies that have proven technologies in place. While $300 million – the price paid to Kosmix – is a king’s ransom for a startup, it’s barely a glitch on Walmart’s radar. (The company brought in over $400 billion in 2011, according to the WSJ Market Watch.)
Walmart’s customer base is the largest in the world, and the e-commerce division is growing in importance as a channel for reaching them. “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,” said Cousineau in the post.
The 13 members of the Small Society staff will join @WalmartLab’s satellite office in Portland and work in tandem with the rest of the team at its San Bruno, California headquarters.
My impression is that Walmart is playing catch-up to brands like Amazon and eBay, both of which have developed their own mobile commerce apps. And though the company is the world’s largest brick-and-mortar retailer, its e-commerce presence represents only a small percentage of sales. Through the creation of @WalmartLabs and continued acquisition of established technology startups, Walmart hopes to change its fortunes dramatically along that front.