New York Times: Wal-Mart Heavies Up on Talent in Retail Battle with Amazon

The New York Times today takes another look at the growing arms race between Amazon.com and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of Bentonville, as the latter continues to heavy up in a battle for retail supremecy in both the physical and online worlds.

We've called attention to Wal-Mart's efforts in this space before -- see Mark Friedman's excellent stories on Wal-Mart's expanding portfolio of social media companies from 2012 and how the retailer is working on building a better online store from May. 

In light of Friedman's work, the Times story covers some familiar ground. But the bigger hook is interesting: how Wal-Mart is opening office space in the heart of Silicon Valley to compete with other valley firms for the top talent in tech:

The company has had a small presence near Silicon Valley for more than a decade, but until recently, engineers in the area barely knew it existed. It signed a lease three years ago for the San Bruno office, north of the valley — and across the street from YouTube — and is opening another this fall in Sunnyvale, home of Yahoo, in the heart of the valley. It is trying hard to prove it is one of the cool kids.

For example, at press events in Bentonville, Ark., Walmart’s headquarters, the menu tends to be ham sandwiches, chips and iced tea. At a recent event in San Bruno, it was white asparagus panna cotta with house-smoked salmon tartar, morel mushroom macaroons and charcuterie from a whole pig. Borrowing a page from Google and Twitter, the company offers hack days when engineers can work on whatever they want.

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Walmart has hundreds of open jobs at its office here. This summer, the company hired 150 people from companies like Yahoo and eBay.

But it's not only the fancy lunches that Wal-Mart is using to attract talent. The biggest draw might be the massive amounts of "big data" the company is amassing on a second-by-second basis. Getting to work with that kind intelligence to help the retailer better understand and market to customers could prove irresistable to some young innovators.

And speaking of innovation, Wal-Mart is showing with its new online initiatives that it isn't afraid to experiment. In addition to programs like "Get on the Shelf," it's trying same-day delivery, grocery delivery and even subscription programs like Goodies.co, which is announced in November 2012. But that service, according to technology and venture capital news site TechCrunch, is likely ending over the next few weeks.