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Sonu Durgia: The role of data science in e-commerce

​Walmart Labs’ group product manager for search and discovery mines the store’s digital interactions to build a better online shopping experience.

Illustration of an online shopping cart, star ratings, and cursors

When done right, data science can contribute to optimizing online retail experiences. | Illustration by Kevin Craft

Consumers know Walmart as a giant that has changed the face of retail in communities across America.

But with a data store containing billions of queries and items, it’s also a laboratory for the company’s data scientists who mine and manage it. “We have data scientists embedded in every single team within the company,” says Sonu Durgia, group product manager for search and discovery at Walmart Labs. “Every function at Walmart, from the quality of groceries to the supply chain, has data science embedded in it,” she notes during this episode of the Women in Data Science podcast.

Because Walmart’s product catalog is immense, holding the attention of consumers and helping them find what they want to buy is a challenge. “We do not have your attention for the next several hours. We have to show you the right things very, very quickly. It’s an interesting and complex ranking and relevance problem,” Durgia says.

Explaining the insights of data scientists to the business and retail sides of Walmart, to people who are not always conversant with technical issues, is an important part of her job, she says. She explains that her varied career path has provided her with the expertise to interact successfully with business executives across the company.

You can listen to the Women in Data Science podcast on Apple Podcasts, via the Women in Data Science website or Stanford Engineering Magazine.