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Wal-Mart’s Social Sales Heaven

Written by Evan Schuman
March 13th, 2012

The latest Wal-Mart social acquisition—one where it grabbed “the technology of” a 4-year-old Facebook app called Social Calendar—creates the potential for Wal-Mart shoppers to not only be reminded of Aunt Bertha’s birthday but have gift ideas based on Aunt Bertha’s social media activity together with her purchase history. Walmart.com will send these gifts to its customers—or to Bertha directly—with one-click mobile speed. That ability, plus new detailed maps to customers within Facebook, and Wal-Mart has bought itself quite a gift.

Social Calendar, which owner Newput Corp. sold to Wal-Mart for an undisclosed amount, claims some 16 million users globally (67 percent from the U.S.), 5 million monthly page views, and 110 million birthdays and other events on file. The magic comes when those millions of gift-giving events—birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, graduations, baby showers, etc.—are merged with Wal-Mart’s new social media files and its not-so-new customer purchase histories. If Wal-Mart can match Aunt Bertha with Bertha Smith of Altoona, Pa., frequent shopper of the Plank Road Wal-Mart in Altoona, bingo! Wal-Mart marketers will start passing out their own party hats.

How difficult will it be making such matches? Given the role of Facebook in this festive fiscal folderol, not that difficult at all. One of the original points of Social Calendar was, according to its site, “recognizing that Facebook Wall is now where the action is on someone’s birthday.”

So if the birthday message is headed for the recipient’s Facebook page—which is chock full of clues as to who that person is, assuming it doesn’t reveal it explicitly—making an ID is not likely going to be difficult. And because the identification is happening right on the gift target’s Facebook page, not only is the real-world identification easy, but there is a definite match to at least part of that shopper’s social persona.

This has the potential for combining two very powerful sales drivers. A reminder of a friend’s birthday (remember that a “friend” in Facebook and Twitter can be one of a huge number of people) is a strong psychological gift moment. To then make a truly personalized recommendation at that same instant is going to have huge potential. Add to that an easy one-click button, and Wal-Mart may truly be on to something here.

Much of this could raise privacy concerns, but not if it’s handled properly. And remember that Facebook is diluting privacy issues in a huge number of ways. For example, if a search limited itself to publicly available Facebook pages, what type of legitimate privacy complaint could be made?

Setting Facebook aside for the moment, the world of E-tail gift recommendations has its own privacy minefields, but ones that can avoided with discretion, discipline and restraint.


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