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Walmart has acquired mobile agency Small Society to join its growing @WalmartLabs mobile team.

Small Society has built several consumer iPhone apps for brands such as Starbucks and Whole Foods, and the team will now be set to work improving the retailer's mobile offering.

Walmart has been snapping up media agencies in the past 12 months, with social media outfits Kosmix and OneRiot among its acquisitions.

It signals an attempt by the company to better integrate mobile into its advertising and customer loyalty schemes.

Walmart already has massive data centre that tracks customer purchases, so by improving its social media and mobile capabilities it can better target its customers using the existing data.

In a blog post announcing the deal with Small Society, the retailer said it wants to be able to offer a mobile experience to consumers whether they shop at Walmart every week or live 100 miles from the nearest store.

It continued, “We believe that mobile can have an impact on every part of the shopping experience for Walmart customers, whether in-store or online.”

By adding more talent to its in-house media team, Walmart can bypass media agencies and keep its innovations under wraps.

In theory Walmart can also give its staff the freedom to be more creative as it can better invest in the tools and time that is necessary to build innovative mobile products.

One such product is the Facebook app Shopycat, launched late last year, that gives gift recommendations to Walmart shoppers based on their friends’ likes and dislikes.

Walmart’s approach to acquiring talent has been copied to a lesser extent by Tesco – last year the British retailer bought social marketing agency BzzAgent for a reported $60m to help turn social media users into brand advocates.

BzzAgent has a network of consumers who are given brand products and then encouraged to give positive reviews to their friends and peers.

Tesco and Walmart are the front-runners when it comes to mining and using customer data, with the Tesco Clubcard being an envied example of how to exploit consumer behaviour.

It should therefore come as no surprise that they are moving quickly to utilise the power of social media and mobile to better target their customers.

David Moth

Published 5 January, 2012 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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