Walmart (NYSE: WMT) today announced a new search engine for Walmart.com to help millions of shoppers browse, discover and purchase items in an easy, fast and intuitive manner. Built from the ground up by @WalmartLabs, the research and technology hub for innovation at Walmart, the engine uses semantic search technology to anticipate the intent of a shopper’s search to deliver highly relevant results for them. Walmart.com has already seen an approximate 10-15 percent increase in shoppers completing a purchase after searching for a product using the new search engine.
Named Polaris, the new search engine was developed by a small team within @WalmartLabs and completed in ten months. The group includes experts in information retrieval, machine learning and text mining with experience from top search and e-commerce companies and renowned research institutions. Over the past few months, Walmart.com has migrated the site over to Polaris and it is now fully powered by the search engine. Polaris is also used for mobile search and will expand to power the company’s international e-commerce sites over the coming months.
“Search is a crown jewel for any e-commerce company to own,” said Neil Ashe, president and CEO of Walmart Global eCommerce. “Today’s announcement underscores our commitment to owning technology that is fundamental in giving our millions of customers anytime, anywhere access to the products they want at the lowest prices.”
“With Polaris, we are giving users the ability to connect with the items they want but also surface items based on their interests and likely intent,” said Sri Subramaniam, vice president for @WalmartLabs and head of the Polaris initiative. “This is the start of what we imagine search to be as we continue to deliver products to accelerate Walmart’s global e-commerce efforts.”
Searching for a shopping result is very different from conducting a general search. Polaris is based on the Social Genome project, a platform that connects people to places, events and products giving Walmart a richer level of understanding about customers and products. The new search engine uses advanced algorithms including query understanding and synonym mining to glean user intent in delivering results. When a user types in the word “denim,” it returns results on jeans or “chlorine tablets” returns results related to pool equipment.
Polaris focuses on engagement understanding, which takes into account how a user is behaving with the site to surface the best results for them. It delivers a new and intuitive results page when browsing for topics instead of giving a standard list of search results allowing shoppers to discover new items they may not have considered. When a user types in “patio furniture,” they get a colorful page with multiple patio set options for the backyard along with a banner showing featured items on sale.
Sales guys apparently know how to make money from data. I wonder what a 10% increase in sales through search alone means in terms of money for Walmart.com but I imagine it will more than pay for the salaries of the team that worked on it.