By  on August 6, 2014

Target Corp. is out to boost its digital expertise.

The Minneapolis-based retailer this week opened an office in Sunnyvale, Calif., where it is a neighbor of Silicon Valley powerhouses such as Yahoo, Juniper Networks and NetApp. Target plans to have more than 70 data scientists, software engineers and product managers working in the new office. The retailer said the new facility is “part of a commitment to becoming a leading omnichannel retailer.”

For the time being, 15 or so employees from the data analytics team, target.com and mobile group will occupy the 7,000-square-foot office facility in downtown Sunnyvale. “We intend to grow that team and add software engineers and product managers as well as people from our site merchandising team,” a spokesman said. The group will report to Jason Goldberger, senior vice president of target.com and mobile.

The retailer’s San Francisco office, focused on cutting-edge technology, will remain open. “They work with a lot of start-ups and venture capitalists,” the spokesman said. “They try a lot of things that could pan out down the road.”

Criticized for lagging behind other retailers in terms of technology and innovation — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. recently made its 14th technology acquisition and is eager to become more competitive with Amazon.com — Target in May formed a Digital Advisory Council as part of its efforts to accelerate its digital transformation.

Paritosh Desai, vice president of business intelligence, analytics and testing,  is working on initiatives for target.com and mobile in the new office that are in the process of being rolled out. “It’s back-engine stuff, things consumers won’t necessarily see,” the Target spokesman said. “We think that in 2015 there will be some noticeable changes.”

Target invited Anish Goel, a professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University, to the Sunnyvale opening, where he spoke to the target.com and mobile teams about social commerce. Cartwheel, Target’s digital savings program on Facebook, is one of the mass retailer’s efforts to blend offers with social commerce. Goel said big data and social media will help create a more personalized online experience. “Imagine a social recommendation system that says, ‘Based on what you’ve done in the past, here’s what you may [buy] in the future.’ What I’m hoping will emerge is not just a set of products, but a new set of technologies on which you can build many, many, many products. For companies like Target, that will allow marketing, decision-makers and engineers to quickly launch new, personalized products,” he said.

The next big online frontier, according to Goel, is collaboration. “There’s nowhere on the Internet where you and I can collaboratively solve a problem,” he said. “With all the digital commerce and e-commerce and all the collaborative consumption that we do, there’s no way of collaborating on deciding what products to buy. That’s going to be the next frontier.”

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