The tagline of @WalmartLabs is “Social + Mobile + Retail” and it’s an indicator of where Walmart wants to go with the [Kosmix semantic web] technology it acquired. Walmart wants to tap into social data – for example from Twitter – and entice mobile phone toting customers to its stores. Walmart also wants to beef up its online operations, traditionally a laggard compared to Amazon.com.
Walmart sees the future of retail, and it is mobile devices and social media. They paid $300 million for Kosmix and plan to incorporate it into their business DNA. Walmart was the company that mainstreamed CFL bulbs. They may well do the same for social media and mobile devices.
Imho Wal-Mart thrives with a clientele that for the most part doesn’t carry smart phones. A casual glance around the store should abundantly confirm this. The chain specializes in cheap goods at cheap prices with little or no customer service. They’ve stopped selling both computers and firearms because those products required too much customer interface. And while they’ve recently made inroads on certain foods (fresh bread for example), the majority of their fresh foods are not worth buying – unless you are purely a price shopper and don’t care about what it tastes like.
There is of course a hope that they can change the shopping habits of their customers. For example, Wal-Mart now offers cheap smart phones – although the one person I know who got one there took it back and got another somewhere else because the service was so lousy. True, Wal-Mart got her into her first smart phone, but she didn’t stay there long. Therein lies Wal-Mart’s problem: if their customers gain sophistication, they’ll shop somewhere else instead.
It’s no so much they want to sell the phones but use social media to drive purchases via coupons, very specific targeting of ads, watching what groups of people buy what and when, etc.
In a town like Cedar, everyone shops at Walmart. I see lots of people there on the smart phones, asking a spouse about something, texting. In a few years the primary computing device will be mobile devices.