Jet will feature items from Modcloth and Bonobos, a Walmart spokesperson confirmed to Retail Dive. It's part of an effort to expand the customer base to include younger, more urban and wealthier shoppers.
The two brands are among a series of e-commerce acquisitions Walmart has made since acquiring Jet last year. In February, Walmart bought online outdoor retailer Moosejaw for $51 million in cash, in March announced the acquisition of vintage-inspired online women’s apparel Modcloth and in June bought menswear site Bonobos for $310 million. This month there were rumors that Walmart is also interested in acquiring beauty subscription service Birchbox, though both companies declined to comment to Retail Dive.
While Moosejaw and Shoebuy (bought last year) feature brands that may be sold through Walmart as well as Jet and their standalone sites, vertically integrated Modcloth and Bonobos are destined only for Jet, Ravi Jariwala, senior director of public relations at Walmart.com, told Retail Dive. "The plan has been for Modcloth and Bonobos, for some of that product, to be sold through Jet because the demographics they serve are very nicely aligned."
All of the recently acquired brands are meant to improve the experience for existing customers and extend the company's reach to new customers, Jariwala said. Some of those new customers are in demographic groups that don't generally frequent Walmart stores. The retail giant's average customer is less wealthy, less urban and quite a bit older than those typically shopping at Target and Amazon, and Walmart has had difficulty in the past moving beyond that core base.
Speaking to Retail Dive Friday, Jariwala made clear that the brands will continue as standalone sites, and executives from those companies have sought to ensure loyal customers that little will change, and for good reason. "Otherwise, Walmart will alienate some of the following of the Modcloth customers who are so passionate," Kelly-Jo Sands, executive vice president of marketing technology at marketing firm Ansira, told Retail Dive earlier this year. "If you tie those two names too closely together, you might see a fanatic backlash."
That appears to be happening to some extent, according to a report in the L.A. Times. "The thing I loved about Modcloth is that I knew the clothes I bought there couldn't be found at Macy's and weren't worn by the masses," Connie Warner, who has launched a Boycott ModCloth Facebook page, told the paper. "No more. I've unsubscribed from their emails. I refuse to shop at a store owned by Walmart."
But that picture is overblown, Jariwala said. "We did see a vocal minority respond on social media on social media, but the business performance has shown that there hasn't been a drop off in growth," he said. In fact, he reiterated what Bonobos co-founder Andy Dunn (now at Walmart) has told the media, that as rumors flew for weeks that Walmart would be buying the brand, sales growth and customer acquisition, far from declining, continued apace.
A close association with Walmart is a mixed bag for the brands, even for those customers who happily stick around. Walmart has built a formidable distribution network and has the deep pockets to help these young companies scale. But aligning too closely with the brand could hurt their ability to sustain the higher price ranges and it's not clear that Jet can provide some defense there.
"[Y]ou might ... see expectations of the prices to come down," Sands said. "From the consumer perspective, if I hear ‘Walmart’ I’m expecting a dress to cost a whole lot less than $90. Their price point would have to come down, the way Target’s designer collections are higher than their normal brands, but not even as high as what Modcloth is getting."