Wal-Mart Seeks Online Fashion Presence Through Acquisitions

by Nandita Bose and Gayathree Ganesan, Reuters  on Tuesday, Apr. 18, 2017 6:50 am  

Wal-Mart's headquarters in Bentonville. (Wal-Mart Stores Inc.)

Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s bid for clothing retailer Bonobos, which surfaced last week, is the latest step in the company's attempt to recover lost ground against Amazon.com Inc. and others in the rapidly growing online fashion world, analysts and retail consultants said.

If Wal-Mart succeeds, the move into fashion also would advance its effort to access younger, millennial customers who usually do not shop on Walmart.com.

A Bonobos deal would mark the company's fourth acquisition of a small online clothing-and-accessories brand since the start of 2017. The bid was first reported by Recode on Friday. Wal-Mart has declined to comment.

The move is in keeping with an online strategy led by Marc Lore, the founder and former chief executive of internet retailer Jet.com, who took over Wal-Mart's e-commerce business in August, after Wal-Mart paid $3.3 billion for Jet.

Wal-Mart is the world's largest brick-and-mortar clothing retailer, with 2016 sales exceeding $23 billion, according to retail think tank Fung Global Retail & Technology.

But despite its traditional muscle, the Bentonville company has been unable to replicate that success online. It has not only struggled to attract the type of affluent young consumers who tend to shop for clothes online but has also faced challenges in persuading well-known apparel brands to sell on its website.

Wal-Mart's online sales account for only about 3 percent of total sales, the company has said. In the second half of this year, it is targeting online sales growth of 20 to 30 percent.

In its push for a bigger online presence, Wal-Mart so far has bought ShoeBuy, which specializes in footwear and apparel; Moosejaw, which sells outdoor wear; and ModCloth, an online seller of women's clothing. In March, Lore said at an industry event that Wal-Mart will make more acquisitions to expand its business rapidly.

Jan Rogers Kniffen, chief executive of retail consultancy J. Rogers Kniffen WWE, said the deals could begin to add up, though so far they are too small to have a material impact on Wal-Mart. "It gives them a totally separate vehicle to grow with fashion brands and to own fashion brands," he said.

Wal-Mart's move also aims to stem the loss of market share to Amazon in the highly competitive fashion sector. Amazon leads the U.S. online clothing and footwear market with sales of $13 billion in 2016, up $9 billion from five years ago.

It is expected to triple its share of the U.S. apparel market over the next four years, according to data from Euromonitor and Forrester.

Macy's Inc., Nordstrom Inc., Gap Inc., Kohl's Corp., L Brands Inc. and J.C. Penney Co. Inc. also compete in the segment.

 

 

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