For decades, Walmart solidly held the title of the largest retailer in the world. The Bentonville, Arkansas-based multinational corporation’s competition trailed far behind, and as a result, the now 58-year old titan could afford to focus almost exclusively on its roots as a big-box retail chain, selling low-priced staples, such as laundry detergent, paper towels, bottled water, groceries, and even apparel basics and electronics, in all 50 states and beyond. Despite generating $514.4 billion in revenue in 2019 and boasting a market capitalization of more than $405 billion, Walmart has fallen short where its fast-growing rival, Amazon, has made its name: online.
After bypassing most retailers, with its convenient 2-day shipping and low, low prices, Amazon – and its $280.5 billion in annual revenue as of 2019 – has been moving aggressively to rival Walmart on Walmart’s own turf. While Amazon is not building sprawling brick-and-mortar stores across the U.S., as Walmart has done (the Walmart chain consists of nearly 5,000 brick-and-mortar stores in the U.S., and almost 7,000 international outposts), it is looking to chip away at Walmart’s lead by offering up (including by way of its margin-happy private labels) the every-day household products – and groceries that have helped turn Walmart into the retail market’s biggest behemoth.
Initially under the watch of Joel Anderson – who, in his role as CEO of Walmart.com U.S. in 2012, that “the next 25 years [for Walmart] are about becoming a digital company” – and more recently, at the direction of Jet.com founder Marc Lore, who took the role of CEO of Walmart’s U.S. e-commerce operations in 2016, Walmart has been on an e-commerce acquisition spree. Its goal? Well, it is clearly trying to keep up with Amazon on the digital front.
But beyond that, Walmart is seemingly trying to make a name of its own in the online retail space, where new generations of consumers are already accustomed to looking for everything from food to footwear. In this way, Walmart is not merely looking to keep pace with Amazon, it is looking to stay in stride with digitally-connected consumers, all while endeavoring to amass a larger piece of the mainstream apparel market. With that in mind, here is a timeline of some of Walmart’s retail-related acquisitions and notable partnerships …
October 2021: Free Assembly
Walmart seems to be banking on younger consumers (or better yet, their millennial parents) in order to further grab market share in the apparel segment. Following an announcement in July that it would bring formerly shuttered tween fashion brand Justice to its e-commerce site and select stores (Justice has been dormant since the 2020 bankruptcy of previous owner Ascena Retail Group), the retail titan revealed the launch of Free Assembly, a collection of kids’ apparel meant to “seamlessly complement our adult collection” of apparel, per Deanah Baker, who is the SVP of Men’s, Kids, and Shoes for Walmart U.S.
Denise Incandela, SVP of Women’s, stated this week that the launch of Free Assembly is the latest push towards “establishing Walmart as a fashion destination,” which she says the retailer is “serious about,” as indicated by its “ongoing strategy of expanding our assortment for our customers.”
May 2021: Zeekit
In a further push to digital, Walmart announced that it will acquire virtual fitting room start-up Zeekit. While the terms of the deal have remained under wraps, Denise Incandela, EVP of Apparel and Private Brands at Walmart U.S. stated that “over the last few years, we have been working hard to expand our apparel assortment to include quality, on-trend and accessible fashion to help customers outfit their closets no matter their personal style or budget, but, in an increasingly online-driven category, customers not only want variety in styles, but also an inspiring and personalized digital experience that makes shopping for apparel easy, fun and social.” With that in mind, Incandela said that “virtual try-on is a game-changer and solves what has historically been one of the most difficult things to replicate online — understanding fit and how an item will actually look on you.”
CNBC reports that when Zeekit’s technology launches on Walmart’s website, “Customers will be able to upload photos of themselves or choose from different models that represent their height, shape and skin tone, [and] the technology will show how the clothing would fit and resemble the experience they have at a store.”
March 2021: Brandon Maxwell
Not an acquisition but a noteworthy development, nonetheless, Walmart revealed on March 16 that it has enlisted celebrity-favored designer Brandon Maxwell to design the wares from its Free Assembly and Scoop brands, potentially upping the ante quite a bit for its in-house apparel lines. Former Project Runway judge and favorite of Michelle Obama and Lady Gaga, Maxwell “will be responsible for designing and helping with sourcing, marketing and production,” Reuters reported, noting that the beloved designer “will oversee four collections annually for the two brands, starting with helping with this year’s important holiday season wardrobe before his full collections drop in spring 2022.”
September 2020: Free Assembly
“Walmart is doubling down on its expansion into fashion with a new casual clothing line for men and women called Free Assembly,” according to CNBC. By way of the new private label, which consists of 30 items for women and 25 items for men, all priced between $9 and $45, and is shoppable online and in some 250 Walmart brick-and-mortar stores, Walmart is “hoping to appeal to shoppers who want style and value,” particularly in light of a marked rise in e-commerce reliance for everything from groceries and home goods to apparel and luxury goods in the wake of COVID-19.
In a statement on September 21, Denise Incandela, Walmart’sSVP Women’s Group, Elevated and Online Brands, said, “Through our ongoing strategy of expanding our assortment for our customers, we’ve shown that we’re serious about establishing Walmart as a fashion destination. And, now we’re doubling-down to offer customers something they couldn’t find at Walmart before – a fashion essentials-inspired brand for both men and women created by our in-house design team.”
While the global health pandemic continues to present Walmart with an opportunity to grow its apparel business as website traffic and e-commerce sales continue to thrive, CNBC aptly notes that the big box chain “must still prove its ability to navigate the world of fashion, where trends come and go and consumers can be fickle about sizing, fit and quality.”
May 2020: ThredUp
Seeking to get into the burgeoning resale market, Walmart announced that it will partner with ThredUp, a secondhand apparel and accessories company, in furtherance of an alliance that will enable consumers “to find nearly 750,000 pre-owned items across women’s and children’s clothing, accessories, footwear and handbags” on Walmart’s website, with “the added benefit of Walmart’s free shipping threshold on orders of $35 or more and free returns to Walmart stores or thredUP.”
“We are excited to join forces with Walmart to power a sustainable, secondhand shopping experience unlike any other,” Jenn Volk, Director of Product Management at thredUP said in a statement. “From Calvin Klein and Nike to Coach and Michael Kors, this digital partnership enhances Walmart’s fashion offering with fresh brands at amazing prices that their customers will love.”
The move by Walmart to further expand its online fashion assortment beyond the “nearly 1,000 brands, including national brands like Champion, Jordache and Levi Strauss” that the retail giant says are part of its lineup comes “at a time when it could grab more market share in apparel and accessories,” per CNBC. “The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated challenges for clothing retailers,” but Walmart, which “dominates the grocery business while still lagging in fashion despite its efforts,” has benefited from a surge in online shopping for groceries and household product. Walmart hopes to sell those shoppers apparel, as well.
September 2019: Scoop NYC
In its latest move, Walmart is relaunching defunct New York fashion outpost Scoop NYC by way of its website and select Walmart stores. Walmart’s announcement comes three years after Scoop, which was celebrated as helping to launch brands like Rag & Bone and Alice + Olivia in their early days, shuttered all 16 of its stores in a larger liquidation effort after two decades in business. As CNBC reports, “Now, in a bid to build itself as a bigger fashion destination, Walmart has attained the rights to the Scoop name and is relaunching the brand — but at more affordable price points.”
Walmart plans to offer up more than 100 Scoop-specific garments – from “$15 Scoop graphic tees to $65 coats,” per CNBC, as well as footwear and handbags, online beginning on Monday, September 16.
December 2018: Art.com
To close out the year, Walmart has acquired online retailer Art.com for an undisclosed amount to boost its home decor business and expand its online offering, as part of the retailer’s efforts to attract more millennials. Per Reuters, the deal falls neatly within Walmart’s practice of “buying up small online retailers for more than two years in an attempt to reach younger customers who do not normally shop on its website, and recover ground lost to competitors like Amazon.com Inc. “
October 2018: Bare Necessities
Walmart acquired online lingerie retailer Bare Necessities for an undisclosed amount. Bringing Bare Necessities – which currently offers more than 160 brands with wares including underwear, swimwear, shapewear and sleepwear – under the Walmart umbrella “fits well into our broader acquisition strategy, which includes two different types of companies: category leaders and digital brands that offer unique products,” Denise Incandela, head of fashion, Walmart U.S. e-commerce, said in a blog post.
October 2018: ELOQUII
Walmart announced plans to acquire digitally native, women’s plus-size clothing brand ELOQUII. Walmart has not disclosed the size of the deal, but confirmed that it is larger than its ModCloth acquisition ($75 million) but smaller than Bonobos ($310 million). According to TechCrunch, ELOQUII – which is particularly attractive to Walmart as the $21 billion women’s plus-size fashion market continues to exhibit rapid growth – joins Walmart’s U.S. e-commerce organization, under Andy Dunn, SVP of Digital Consumer Brands.
“ELOQUII is another means for the retailer to reach a segment of online consumers who perhaps wouldn’t have otherwise considered shopping Walmart,” TechCrunch asserted in connection with the deal.
September 2018: Cornershop
In another move in furtherance of international expansion, Walmart acquired the crowdsourced, on-demand delivery marketplace Cornershop for $225 million. The “digital expertise, technology and capabilities” of the fast-growing supermarkets, pharmacies and specialty food delivery service, which operates in Mexico and Chile, “will strengthen our successful businesses in Mexico and Chile and provide learning for other markets in which we operate,” Judith McKenna, president and CEO of Walmart International, said in a statement.
“This is an opportunity to leverage both of our brands, as well as Walmart’s strong supply chain and store network,” she further noted.
May 2018: Flipkart
With a $16 billion investment, Walmart became the majority owner of Indian e-commerce company Flipkart in a deal that Bloomberg has called “an enormous bet by the American retailer on international expansion.” The Flipkart acquisition sees Walmart secure ownership of India’s top e-commerce player, with Flipkart commanding higher traffic and revenue than Amazon in the country, which boasts more than 1.3 billion people, strong GDP growth, a growing middle class and significant opportunities for e-commerce and m-commerce penetration.
October 2017: Parcel
In one of its smaller-scale deals, Walmart took a majority stake – worth an estimated $10 million – in Brooklyn, New York-based startup Parcel, which will help Walmart.com and Walmart-owned Jet.com to offer same-day delivery to customers in New York City. Parcel, which was founded in 2013, currently handles scheduled and same-day delivery services in New York for online retailers, such as Bonobos, which Walmart acquired in June 2017.
According to recode, “The deal comes as more shoppers expect to have the option for same-day delivery when placing online orders, especially when buying consumable products that get everyday use. Not only does Amazon offer Prime members free two-hour delivery on a limited assortment of goods, it also lets these customers get same-day delivery for free on a catalog of more than a million products.”
June 2017: Bonobos
Walmart acquired direct-to-consumer premium menswear brand Bonobos in a $310 million deal, which sees the world’s largest physical retailer continue to build out its online retail fashion business in its bid to outpace Amazon.According to TechCrunch, “Rumors had been circulating of the deal between Bonobos and Walmart for a while, and as predicted, this in part is a way to bring Andy Dunn, who had founded and was leading Bonobos, into a wider leadership role at Walmart.”
Dunn – who reports to Marc Lore, president and CEO of Walmart U.S. eCommerce (who joined with the Jet.com acquisition) – will be “taking on a bigger and new role for us at e-commerce overseeing our digital vertical brands,” a Walmart spokesperson said at the time.
March 2017: ModCloth
Walmart acquired the assets and operations of ModCloth, which it described as “one of the top online specialty retailers of unique women’s fashion and accessories,” for price that is reportedly less than $50 million. The deal enables Walmart to continue to expand its online apparel offerings, with the giant stating in a release that “apparel and accessories is the No. 1 category for digital commerce, according to comScore, and [with the Modcloth acquisition] we gain the experience of a well-recognized specialty apparel e-commerce brand that’s trusted by millions of millennial women.”
February 2017: Moosejaw
Walmart announced that it would acquire Moosejaw, a leading outdoor retailer, for approximately $51 million. The Moosejaw deal was touted as a way to give Walmart an entry point into activewear, a consistently popular online retail category, with its offerings of 400 different brands, including Patagonia, The North Face, and ArcTeryx, among others.
January 2017: ShoeBuy
In a reported $70 million deal, Jet.com, through its parent Walmart, acquired ShoeBuy from IAC for approximately $70 million. According to Walmart, the acquisition of ShoeBuy – which carries more than 800 brands and over a million items including footwear for women, men and kids, as well as clothing and accessories, such as outerwear and handbags – will enable Jet.com to “gain the experience of a well-established ecommerce player in the footwear industry, who has transformed the online shopping experience for millions of customers.”
August 2016: Hayneedle
In addition to Jet.com, Walmart acquired Jet.com’s its home furnishings subsidiary Hayneedle, as well. (Jet.com had acquired Hayneedle in March 2016 for $90 million in order to “gain access to Hayneedle’s warehouses in Ohio and California, giving it more regional distribution centers to ship products,” per Forbes).
August 2016: Jet.com
Walmart acquired digital shopping site Jet.com for $3.3 billion, its first major digital M&A play. It has since revamped the site to target an affluent, younger crowd living in urban areas, such as New York City, with everything from apparel and accessories to groceries that can be delivered in 3 hours.
UPDATE: After announcing “a sweeping overhaul at Jet.com” in June 2019 after the online start-up “failed to live up to the world’s largest retailer’s e-commerce ambitions,” as Reuters put it at the time, Walmart announced in May 2020 that it would shutter the venture in its entirety. “While the brand name may still be used in the future, our resources, people and financials have been dominated by the Walmart brand because it has so much traction,” Walmart CEO Doug Mcmillan said in a statement. “We’re seeing the Walmart brand resonate regardless of income, geography or age.”
*This article was initially published in September 2018 and has been updated accordingly.