By Alistair Barr
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the world's largest retailer, unveiled its first 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.
"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.
(Editing by Steve Orlofsky)