Walmart on Tuesday unveiled four new private apparel labels, available March 1 nationwide in Walmart stores and online, that the company says "elevates" its offering in clothing, footwear and accessories, "making itself a destination for apparel." (Many items are already available online.)
The four new lines are Time and Tru (women’s, with an inclusive size range from XS-XXXL), Terra & Sky (women’s plus size ranging 14W-30W), Wonder Nation (in kids sizes 4-18) and George (men’s). Prices range from less than $5 to $30, according to a company press release.
Beginning in early March, the retailer’s apparel departments will include new signage with stylized photography to inspire looks from each new brand, the company said. By fall, most stores will have such upgrades to apparel displays, and some will be remodeled to include open floor plans for visibility and upgraded fitting rooms, according to the release.
Walmart is going all out promoting these new lines, but while it’s emphasizing their elevated fashion, the new styles aren’t that far of a departure, in that the retail giant already offers many trendy fashion styles through private labels like No Comment.
But the lookbooks and other press materials accompanying Walmart's announcement make clear that it's working hard to reach a younger, more diverse, more urban customer. The photos they contain, of stylish millennials of various body types and ethnicities in city settings, are likely to resemble the ones the retailer says it plans to enlarge for the new apparel spaces in stores.
It’s not the first time Walmart has worked to boost its fashion aesthetic. Nearly a decade ago, the retailer launched "Project Impact," an effort to improve the quality of apparel and home furnishings, clean up stores and present friendlier customer service. It was widely seen as a disaster, mostly because it didn’t move the needle much on sales. Before that, in 2005, Walmart placed ads in Vogue magazine and sponsored a New York City fashion show to highlight new, higher-priced apparel lines. The result was another disaster — and another retreat.
"Upgrading the fashionability and quality of apparel is something Walmart has attempted in a variety of ways and failed at in the past," Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia University's Graduate School of Business, told Retail Dive in an email, saying that private labels Faded Glory and White Stag previously acquired by Walmart "also went nowhere."
"The fact that they are back in on this strategy in a more aggressive way than in the past does not signal that they will necessarily be successful," he said. "Saying you are going into apparel and accessories in a big way and succeeding at that is a leap of faith that Walmart hasn’t historically deserved."
Also this week, Walmart unveiled plans for a revamped home page that will begin in coming weeks, with a new "home destination" in furniture and home — with curated collections guided by design trends and in-house stylists, nine shop-by-style options and an editorial-style imagery and design tips enabling discovery of various styles and complete looks — arriving first. The new efforts in these departments appear to be a departure from the retailer's early embrace of its Jet unit, acquired in 2016, which previously was the base for its appeal to millennials.
"Jet appears more and more like a superfluous appendage," Cohen said. "A price-reducing algorithm coupled with an expanding portfolio of SKU’s, which still lag far behind Amazon with no 'glue' a la Amazon Prime to bind their brand equity together, just doesn’t feel like a winning strategy, now or in the future."