High fashion, or fashion on any level, has never been Walmart’s strong suit.
So why is the world’s largest retailer and employer going after online men’s clothier Bonobos, which uses personal "guides" to help customers pick out fashions?
It’s Walmart’s latest salvo, say retail analysts, in its ongoing rivalry with Amazon — the undisputed champion of the e-commerce world — for retail supremacy.
Last year, Amazon entered what traditionally has been department stores’ domain: fashion. It began selling items on seven private labels. According to a report by investment bank Cowen, Amazon is set to overtake Macy's as the largest apparel retailer in the United States in 2017.
“Walmart is trying to transition its business model to look more like an e-commerce player in direct response to Amazon’s [online] dominance,” said Morningstar equity analyst John Brick.
If Walmart snatches up Bonobos, it will be its fourth online acquisition in less than a year. It purchased Jet.com last fall and in March of this year, it bought ModCloth.com, a specialty women’s online retailer.
“Walmart is attempting to break into the younger demographic; purchasing Bonobos would bring such expertise,” Brick said. “For Bonobos, the deal makes sense given Walmart’s reach, scale, and distribution. Bonobos and its vendors will have the largest distribution network in the world to help it grow profitably.”
Neither Walmart or Bonobos responded to requests for comment. But news reports this week said a deal was on the table and has entered due diligence.
Interestingly, Walmart’s moves come as Amazon has been targeting brick-and-mortar companies to acquire. There’s been speculation that the company is targeting Whole Foods and BJ’s Wholesale Club. It opened physical book stores in Seattle, San Diego, and Portland, Ore., and has plans to expand into grocery stores.
Walmart’s focus towards acquiring online retail companies “is a response to the general shift towards e-commerce as a whole,” said IBISWorld Inc. senior analyst Madeline Hurley. “Purchasing these online retailers is both an offensive move towards companies like Amazon, and a defensive move to stay powerful within the retail sector.”
Walmart recently announced plans to close over 250 stores this year — signaling stagnant brick-and-mortar growth.
Bonobos began as a pure online retailer in 2007. A 2,200-square foot Bonobos store opened at 1519 Walnut St. last fall, brokered by MSC Retail, as part of the brand’s strategy to beef up its physical footprint to complement its website. A King of Prussia store opened on Sept. 1. Customers are matched with personal guides that help them pick out items to try on.
“Walmart is trying to use the Amazon ‘flywheel’ playbook of increasing e-commerce sales to attract more vendors, which ultimately draws more customers,” added Brick. “This productive loop reduces fixed cost per unit, allowing Walmart to price items lower, accelerating the customer gains.”
But national retail consultant Howard Davidowitz said Walmart’s foray into fashion is bound to fail.
“No one buys clothes at Walmart,” he said. “It’s known for food, groceries, and electronics, not fashion. All the risk and opportunity is on the buyer, Walmart. There’s no risk for Bonobos, the seller.”