Editor's note: As part of our partnership with PBS's Nightly Business Report, TheStreet's Jeanine Poggi joined NBR Monday (watch video and read transcript here) to preview Wal-Mart's third-quarter earnings.
NEW YORK (
(WMT - Get Report) U.S. same-store sales will once again be front and center when the discount giant reports third-quarter results on Tuesday. But there's another key element that will be mostly invisible, at least for now, in the results -- its investment in technology.
Currently, Wal-Mart's e-commerce is severely lacking, representing less than 1% of total sales, according to Citi analyst Deborah Weinswig. But the No. 1 retailer has been pouring money into its new @WalmartLabs division, which has assumed responsibility for the company's growth in e-commerce, mobile shopping and social media.
"We believe that the creation of @WalmartLabs and the division's subsequent acquisitions should help drive increased online sales growth as we move into 2012 and beyond," Weinswig wrote in a note.
>Wal-Mart: The Next Tech Giant
, which was launched in April as a product of Wal-Mart's acquisition of Kosmix, has been hard at work in the past six months. Its efforts started to take shape this week, with the company launching two mobile and iPad shopping applications. The new applications utilize budgeting and list tools, camera functionality and coupons to facilitate seamless shopping for users.
Don't Chase Wal-Mart Into Earnings
"We believe that the creation of its own proprietary app fits Wal-Mart's historical strategy and we expect Wal-Mart to continue to focus on creating products that enhance the shopping experience and blur the lines between its brick-and-mortar store and its online platform," Weinswig noted.
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On Facebook, @WalmartLabs rolled out a massive marketing effort centered around Black Friday and the holiday season earlier in the month. The company will also unveil Shopycat, an application that uses data from activity and profiles on the social network to provide users (who opt in) a list of gift suggestions based on their budgets and helps locate these items online or in stores.
The 70-person @WalmartLabs team of engineers and researchers is expanding, with the company opening a software development arm of 100 employees in Bangalore, India. The new venture will develop applications to provide customers with the exact location of a certain item in the company's big-box stores and detailed product comparisons.