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TheStreet Open House

Wal-Mart: The Next Tech Giant?

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Amazon (AMZN) has been deemed the next disturber of the technology space. But as the e-commerce giant launches its own tablet device and beefs up its digital content, another retail behemoth is quietly making moves to become the next tech giant.

Tucked in the heart of Silicon Valley, Wal-Mart (WMT) has assembled a team of 70 developers, computer engineers and researchers - dubbed @WalmartLabs -- in an aggressive attempt to position itself at the forefront of social and mobile commerce.

Born from the $300 million acquisition of Kosmix in May, @WalmartLabs is being led by two Amazon veterans, Venky Harinarayan and Anand Rajaranan. The duos' comparison shopping site, Junglee, which was acquired by Amazon in 1998 for $250 million, has been credited for the success of Amazon's third-party marketplace. Harinarayan and Rajaranan are also the brains behind Amazon Mechanical Turk, a crowdsourcing Internet marketplace.

"I think the difference between online and offline is going to blur dramatically over the next two to three years," Harinarayan told TheStreet. "For example, if I look at a product offline I'd like to see the same detailed page I see online. I'd like to know who else likes this product, what are the reviews, the people who bought this product what else did they buy."

Wal-Mart Envisions the Ultimate Social Network

"And what you expect offline, the whole three-dimensional experience, people are going to want to see that online. So at Wal-Mart we look at this now as a continuous channel. There's going to be one channel, whether it's online or offline people want to interact in an easy fashion and it is our job to make it one seamless experience."

Wal-Mart is hoping the two start-up mavens can reinvent its own e-commerce platform, which has lagged competitors. In comparison to Amazon, which raked in $34 billion in e-commerce sales in 2010, Wal-Mart earned just $6 billion.

One of the first steps in narrowing this gap is in revamping Wal-Mart's online search engine, Harinarayan says, with a focus on those categories that were not served well in "e-commerce 1.0."

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