Walmart rolls out semantic search engine, sees boost in business

Walmart.com claims 10 to 15 percent increase in shoppers completing a purchase after searching for a product

Retailer Walmart has rolled out a new search engine based on semantic search technology, that not only helps users find items they want on its website, but also delivers results based on their interests and likely intent, the company said Thursday.

Walmart like many online businesses sees the search engine as a key element in boosting online sales. Online marketplace eBay for example said in November it is updating to a search engine, code-named Cassini, which will replace the Voyager technology that has been used since the early 2000s.

Built in 10 months by a small team @WalmartLabs, the research and technology hub at the retailer, the new search engine called Polaris is based on the lab's Social Genome project, which uses public data on the Web, proprietary data, and social media, to identify interesting entities and relationships, and add them to the Social Genome.

The lab was set up after Walmart's acquisition last year of Kosmix in Mountain View, California. Kosmix had developed a social media technology platform that filters and organizes content in social networks in a manner relevant to users.

The search engine uses algorithms such as query understanding and synonym mining to figure out user intent in delivering results. As a result, if a user types in the word "denim," it returns results on "jeans" while "chlorine tablets" returns results related to pool equipment, according to examples provided by the company. When a user types in "patio furniture" he gets a page with multiple patio set options for the backyard along with a banner showing featured items on sale, to help shoppers discover items they may have not considered.

The website Walmart.com, which rolled out the new search engine over the last few months, has already seen about 10 to 15 percent increase in shoppers that complete a purchase after searching for a product using Polaris, according to Walmart. The retailer plans to roll out the technology, which can also be used for mobile searches, to its international e-commerce web sites in the coming months.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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