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To catch up, Wal-Mart moves to Amazon turf

Oct 21 2013, 10:57 IST
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SummaryA plucky Silicon Valley company, forced to compete for talented engineers, is trying it all.

A plucky Silicon Valley company, forced to compete for talented engineers, is trying it all — recruiting billboards; workplace perks like treadmill workstations and foosball tables; and conference rooms named after celebrities like Rihanna and Justin Bieber.

The name of that arriviste company? Wal-Mart.

The world's largest retailer, which for years didn’t blink at would-be competitors, is now under such a threat from Amazon that it is frantically playing catch-up by learning the technology business, including starting @WalmartLabs, its dot-com headquarters.

The two retail behemoths, one the king of the physical store and the other the conqueror of the online world, are battling over e-commerce — competing for the most talented engineers, trying to gain the upper hand in the new frontier of same-day delivery and warring over online pricing.

They want to control not just internet shopping but all shopping. Even as Wal-Mart pours money into technology, Amazon is building a physical presence across the nation, adding warehouses and pickup locations. Both companies’ moves indicate that they believe the future of commerce is not just stores and not just online but a combination of the two.

For the first time in decades, Wal-Mart, which drove company after company out of business, has a competitor it sounds a little scared of.

“Don’t think for a second that Jeff Bezos is not a capitalist,” Neil Ashe, chief executive of Walmart Global E-Commerce, said of the belief of Bezos, founder and chief executive of Amazon, in low prices and paper-thin margins. “They’re just playing a game, which is, ‘We’re just going to wait out the world.’”

Amazon declined to comment.

Although the fierce competition between Wal-Mart and Amazon is occurring in all areas, to get the technological edge Wal-Mart has to succeed in San Bruno.

The company has had a small presence near Silicon Valley for more than a decade, but until recently, engineers in the area barely knew it existed. It signed a lease three years ago for the San Bruno office, north of the valley — and across the street from YouTube — and is opening another this fall in Sunnyvale, home of Yahoo, in the heart of the valley. It is trying hard to prove it is one of the cool kids.

For example, at press events in Bentonville, Arkansas, Wal-Mart’s headquarters, the menu tends to be ham sandwiches, chips and iced tea. At a recent event in San

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