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Wal-Mart launches social network shopping app

Customers head in and out of a Walmart Supercentre location in Scarborough, Ontario

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. , the world's largest retailer, unveiled a new social-networking application late on Wednesday, in a move to latch onto one of the hottest trends in e-commerce.

WalMart launched Shopycat, which uses Facebook data to recommend gifts to consumers, on the company's Facebook page.

This is one of the first products to roll out of @Walmartlabs, a unit of the company based just south of San Francisco that is developing social-networking and mobile technologies for the retailer.

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"Shopycat is the first step in what we think is a very strategic area for the industry as a whole," said Venky Harinarayan, senior vice president of WalMart Global eCommerce and co-founder of @WalmartLabs.

The unit focused on gift giving first because it's a tricky process that is inherently social, he added.

Shopycat uses data from Facebook pages to estimate a person's top 10 friends. It then recommends suitable gifts for those friends, based on their interests, again based on information shared via Facebook.

Consumers can also search for a topic or theme, and Shopycat will show which Facebook friends are interested in those things, along with related gifts.

Wal-Mart isn't the only retail company to use Facebook to promote gift buying.

EBay Inc. , operator of the world's largest online marketplace, launched Group Gifts in early November. The service connects eBay shoppers with Facebook friends to collectively purchase presents.

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