How Wal-Mart Is Building a Better Online Store

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, May. 13, 2013 12:00 am  

In August, Wal-Mart unveiled its new search engine, Polaris, which was developed in 10 months by @WalmartLabs, which is part of Wal-Mart’s Global e-Commerce division in San Bruno, Calif.’s search engine seems to know what the customer wants. For example, when a shopper types in “denim,” Polaris returns results for jeans. Or when “flats” is keyed in, Polaris knows to bring up women’s shoes rather than flat-screen televisions.

The engine has received glowing reviews because of its ability to decipher what the customer is looking for and even interpret poor spelling.

Wal-Mart’s Polaris is “on par or even slightly better than Amazon” in terms of product searches after a test of 100 items, Nemer, of Wells Fargo, said in his report.

“Interestingly, when we obscured the test with a more general description (i.e., removed a specific model number) and misspelled words, Wal-Mart actually ranked slightly better than Amazon,” the research note said.

The search feature is key because consumers’ patience is limited. If they don’t find what they’re looking for promptly, they’ll leave the retailer’s website. In addition, few consumers make it past the top 10 search results, Nemer said.

“So we believe it is becoming increasingly important for the right product to show up on the first page of results,” he said.

Site to Store

Wal-Mart online customers have the option of ordering a product and having it delivered to their closest Wal-Mart store, and in some cases the item could arrive that same day.

Wal-Mart’s site-to-store program started in 2007 and has been a hit for the retailer. Jariwala said nearly half of orders are picked up in a brick-and-mortar store.

By choosing to have the items delivered straight to a store, the customer doesn’t have to pay for shipping and it’s also convenient, said Robin Sherk, a director of retail insights at Kantar Retail.

If customers are making their weekly grocery trip to Wal-Mart, they might as well pick up their online order while they’re there, she said.



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