January 5, 2012, 12:11 PM

@WalmartLabs thinks small with new acquisition

Wal-Mart’s technology division has bought prominent app developer Small Society.

Lead Photo

The retailer's current mobile app.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. clearly is looking to get a leg up on its rivals in mobile commerce. The retailer’s @WalmartLabs technology division has acquired app developer Small Society, which has built apps for the likes of Amazon.com Inc., Starbucks, HauteLook, Whole Foods and ZipCar.

Small Society potentially could help Wal-Mart, No. 4 in the Internet Retailer Mobile Commerce Top 300, build apps to fight back against competitors like Amazon and eBay Inc., both of which have many apps that serve highly specific purposes, such as checking prices via bar code scanning or focusing shopping on fashion with augmented reality technology.

“When looking to expand our team, we were incredibly selective,” writes Paul Cousineau, vice president of mobile products at @WalmartLabs, in the organization’s official blog. “As we got to know the Small Society founders, they impressed us with their understanding of mobile platforms, their passion for building great products, and their awareness of the unique opportunities for mobile in the retail space.”

Small Society was founded three years ago by Raven Zachary and James Keller. The 13-employee company is based in Portland, OR. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“Our opportunity as a team to impact the retail experience using mobile technology is huge. It honestly can’t get any bigger than Wal-Mart,” Zachary, president of Small Society, writes in his blog. “When Small Society was founded three years ago, one of the key areas we wanted to focus on was re-imagining the retail experience. Mobile technology can play a profound role in changing how people interact with their physical environments and we are still very much in the early stages of this exploration.”

Some experts believe the acquisition of Small Society is exactly what a big retailer with deep pockets needs to do as mobile commerce becomes a force to be reckoned with.

“I don’t think it’s any secret what Wal-Mart wants them for,” says Nikki Baird, managing partner at Retail Systems Research LLC. “With mobile the big winner in holiday shopping, it’s clear that retailers need to make mobile strategy central to their digital channel efforts in 2012.”

@WalmartLabs is highly focused on mobile, and sees Small Society and its team of mobile experts as a valuable addition to help further the retailing giant’s m-commerce aspirations.

“A focus on talent, product and customer­s embodied in small teams of talented people—this is what has mattered most to us as we have built the @WalmartLabs mobile team,” Cousineau writes. “Our ambitions aren’t small—we believe that mobile can have an impact on every part of the shopping experience for Wal-Mart customers, whether in-store or online. We’re very excited to have such talented new team members to help us make that impact.”

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