By Alistair Barr
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc's U.S. website got a boost in recent months from a new search engine developed by the world's largest retailer, a company executive said on Thursday.
Wal-Mart hopes the new search engine, Polaris, will help it compete better with e-commerce leaders Amazon.com Inc and eBay Inc.
The new search technology was developed in roughly 10 months by a team of about 15 engineers and product specialists from @WalmartLabs, a tech-focused unit of the retailer based near Silicon Valley.
Search is a crucial technology for e-commerce companies. As more people shop online, they often end up at the top of a website typing in a product name. If they cannot find what they want quickly, they will likely go to a rival website or venture into a physical store.
EBay has been working for several years on a new search engine, known as Cassini, for its online marketplace.
"Retailers embracing e-commerce have to very quickly turn into tech companies. And search is the crown jewel of this," said Sri Subramaniam, vice president for @WalmartLabs and head of the Polaris initiative.
Since Wal-Mart began rolling out Polaris on its U.S. Walmart.com website in recent months, the company has seen a 10 to 15 percent increase in search conversion, Subramaniam said. This measures the likelihood of shoppers buying a product when they visit Wal-Mart's site and search for products.
The new technology has also increased online product views on Walmart.com by roughly 20 percent, Subramaniam added. He said Wal-Mart is the first retailer to develop its own search engine. "This is comparable to Amazon's search and superior to other retailers."
Polaris focuses on groups of related terms and phrases people use when describing products, rather than matching queries to exact words in listings. For instance, customers who typed in "flats" into the old search engine saw a list of flat-screen TVs. But the new search engine brings up women's shoes.
The retailer said on Thursday that its U.S. website is now "fully powered" by the search engine. Wal-Mart plans to expand Polaris to its websites outside the United States, the company added.
(Reporting by Alistair Barr; editing by Matthew Lewis)