Walmart builds its own shopping search engine

Walmart (s wmt) is deploying a new internally-built search engine to power and ultimately increase sales conversions from searches. The Polaris search engine, developed by @WalmartLabs over the last 10 months, has been in use for the last few months on and has already boosted conversions to sales by 10-15 percent, the company said.

Polaris grew out of the semantic technology brought over through Walmart’s acquisition last year of Kosmix, including Kosmix’s social genome project, which connects people to places, events and products. While Kosmix founders Venky Harinarayan and Anand Rajaraman, who led the newly established @WalmartLabs, have moved on, Walmart is making good use of their technology.

Now, when users search on, they don’t just get a page full of results. For certain searches, they will get directed to a topic page that features specials and curated items as well as traditional search results. The searches are also getting smarter.

Walmart iPad appUnlike the previous search engine from Endeca, which was bought by Oracle (s orcl) last year, Polaris does more than just match text or look at what’s selling well recently. Polaris looks at the search term and tries to understand what a user is really looking for by matching the term and all its variations to a knowledge graph. It also applies engagement scoring and previous user actions to help refine its results.

That helps Walmart display more relevant results which can lead to increased sales. And it helps Walmart tailor its search experience to its users instead of relying on a generic third-party search engine.

“As physical retailers get serious about ecommerce, they have to invest in their own technology to track under the hood and really tune and take things to the next level, understanding what users want and matching that to inventory,” said Sri Subramaniam, vice president for @WalmartLabs and head of our search initiative.

Subramaniam said Polaris will get rolled out to Walmart’s international sites over the next few months and will also power its mobile apps. The search engine will also get a visual facelift as well to match the internal upgrades. Subramaniam has no intentions of licensing its search engines to other commerce companies.

Walmart’s decision to build a search engine is not surprising. Harinarayan and Rajaraman had previously built Junglee, a database and search engine that they sold to Amazon (s amzn) in 1998. And Walmart has been talking up its focus on big data recently. The retail giant needs to keep getting smarter if it wants to compete with Amazon (s amzn), the leader in online retail. That was why it established @WalmartLabs in the first place, to understand how to blend data, social and mobile together and advance the future of commerce. Walmart is also facing more pressure from Google (s goog), which has also turned its Google Product Search listings into a new vertical called Google Shopping.