Is Nordstrom the next acquisition target for Walmart or Amazon?
The two retail giants have something to gain from taking over Warby Parker, Lowe’s or Ulta Beauty — but the Seattle-based department store with a strong off-price division is a strong contender.
Amazon and Walmart have been on an acquisition tear — buying up brands as varied as Whole Foods Market, Bonobos and Modcloth. In a blog post on Medium last week, Jeff Glueck, CEO of location intelligence company Foursquare, stoked the fever around the acquisition-happy retail giants with a few guesses about both companies’ next possible takeover moves. And while Glueck admitted the ideas are highly speculative, he said they’re grounded by data.
"[W]e can make informed recommendations about which brands Amazon and Walmart should target next using our proprietary data-driven insights," he wrote. "Our analysis is driven by the unique perspective we have based on our location intelligence and our understanding of how people move through more than 105 million locations around the globe."
All that led Foursquare to believe that Amazon may be interested in home improvement retailer Lowe’s, that Walmart may be after Ulta Beauty and that both might want to absorb Warby Parker or Nordstrom. The Seattle-based department store retailer, well versed in both e-commerce and retail innovation, is already mulling a Wall Street exit, and could be primed for a takeover. Walmart declined to comment on the speculation, and Amazon and Nordstrom didn't immediately return Retail Dive's request for comment.
More Prime members for Amazon, new customers for Walmart
The analytics firm backed up its reasons for each idea pretty well, following what each considered acquisition target could provide its potential suitor.
Amazon’s interest in Nordstrom is found primarily in its customer base, which already overlaps with Amazon Prime members and the shoppers of its recently acquired Whole Foods unit. "Foursquare’s data show that Nordstrom shoppers are almost two times more likely to shop at Whole Foods than the average consumer," Glueck writes. "So an Amazon-owned Nordstrom chain would deepen Amazon’s relationships with its expanding core base."
That’s essentially how Nick Egelanian, president of retail development consultants SiteWorks International, sees it, although with some caveats. "Nordstrom attracts similar higher end customer to Whole Foods — however, unlike Whole Foods, there are only 118 Nordstrom units (more if you count Nordstrom Rack), and they are not located as 'close' to the consumer as the Whole Foods stores," he told Retail Dive. "As such, they would have less value for logistics efficiency. They would, however, represent a significant brick and mortar footprint for Amazon’s sizable apparel business."
Walmart, meanwhile, has the opposite incentive by Foursquare's analysis. That is, to continue the customer-acquisition spree it’s on to finally achieve what it’s tried time and again for years — reaching shoppers outside of its usual base. "Walmart uses acquisition to capture new customers, which they can find at Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack: these consumers aren’t frequent Walmart-goers," Glueck wrote. "According to Foursquare’s foot traffic data, they are about 55% less likely to go to Walmart than the average American."
While Egelanian says he wouldn’t be surprised by any Walmart interest in Nordstrom, given its newfound and voracious M&A appetite under new U.S. e-commerce chief Marc Lore, he doesn’t think it makes sense for the price-conscious retail giant. "Walmart has yet to prove it can make money in e-commerce or that its foray into e-commerce is strategically well aligned with its core super-center business," he said.
A department store in good health, with an off-price sidekick
Nordstrom may also be a prime target because it isn’t grappling with many of the factors vexing its rivals. In its decades of growth, the company never overextended its footprint the way Macy’s did, for example, and its locations outside the Seattle flagship are in key urban areas or better performing malls. "The Nordstrom department store resides in locations that are likely to be highly viable," retail studies professor Mark Cohen of Columbia University’s business school told Retail Dive earlier this year.
The off-price Rack business, as Glueck noted, isn’t enjoying results quite as stellar as the retailers run by TJX Cos., but it is well established (starting out more than four decades ago) and flourishing, especially when compared to such divisions run by other department stores. Nordstrom is "absolutely by far the best at outlet," according to Shelley E. Kohan, VP of retail consulting at store analytics firm RetailNext. "T.J. Maxx — those are two different formats. But as far as the outlet, [most department stores] can't figure it out, but Nordstrom Rack kills it."
An acquisition with acquisitions
If Amazon or Walmart were to buy Nordstrom, they would get the benefit of Nordstrom’s own acquisition strategy, which has helped the retailer reach new customers, refine its merchandising and explore cutting-edge retail concepts, according to Maya Mikhailov, co-founder and CMO of GPShopper.
"Nordstrom purchased HauteLook and Trunk Club and has made a ton of investments — in Shoes of Prey, for example. They were original investors in Bonobos as well," she said of the e-commerce brand now owned by Walmart (another point offered up in Foursquare's argument). "They’re looking at a different M&A strategy altogether, of placing strategic bets across the board. Nordstrom is experimenting in emerging business models, which is very smart because it allows them to stay on the cusp of these trends and allows them to see what works. They’re saying 'I don’t know if there’s a market here, but I’m willing to see if the consumer will adopt this and if we can bring this to mass market.'"
Furthermore, any notion of a Nordstrom takeover is made more likely by the department store retailer's own recent signals that it’s interested in going private, in order to regroup in an era when the department store concept is under assault.
Nordstrom is "brilliantly” positioned to do so because of the loyalty of its customers, its commitment to customer service, its off-price Rack business and its “very powerful" online business, Howard Davidowitz, chairman of New York City-based retail consulting and investment banking firm Davidowitz & Associates, told Retail Dive earlier this year.
The same attributes that set up Nordstrom well to possibly escape Wall Street would also be attractive to a deep-pocketed prospective buyer, a designation that certainly applies to both Amazon and Walmart.
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