Walmart on Wednesday unveiled plans for a revamped home page that will begin in coming weeks, with a new effort in furniture and home design arriving first, according to a company blog post from Anthony Soohoo, Walmart U.S. e-commerce SVP and Group General Manager of Home.
The online furniture pages include a "home destination" with curated collections guided by design trends and in-house stylists; nine shop-by-style options, including modern, mid-century, traditional, glam, industrial, bohemian, farmhouse, transitional and Scandinavian; and an editorial-style imagery and design tips enabling discovery of various styles and complete looks, Soohoo wrote.
Over the past year, Walmart has nearly doubled its home assortment, with a variety of new furniture and home decor items, like a Scandinavian line of kids furniture and a line of modern furniture, he also noted.
Walmart is joining Wayfair, Amazon and Target, along with a number of e-commerce upstarts, with on-trend furniture assortments featured online. The site unveiled by Soohoo, who arrived at the retail giant last year from online furniture site Dot and Bo (which shuttered in 2016 but was revived by Alibaba last year), is almost unrecognizable for Walmart, with muted tones including a soft, pale sky color replacing the retail giant's characteristic medium blue.
It's become quite a crowded space, with legacy players like Pottery Barn well established online and new entrants coming in. Amazon in November launched two furniture brands, Rivet (with a mid-century modern design flair) and Stone & Beam (with a farmhouse or cottage approach). Target's new "Project 62" furniture line and eclectic home brand Opalhouse, meanwhile, are part of that retailer's renewed commitment to differentiated merchandising.
They're all taking advantage of consumers' increasing willingness to buy large furniture pieces online. E-commerce furniture sales have emerged as a major growth area, rising 18% in 2015, second only to grocery, according to research from Barclays. Some 15% of $70 billion in U.S. furniture sales are now online, according to IBISWorld data.
But the logistics are tricky, and Walmart, which saw e-commerce growth take a plunge in its most recent quarter, doesn't have much wiggle room considering its already thin margins. That was illustrated vividly by Wayfair on Thursday, when that retailer reported continued sales growth in its fourth quarter but net losses widening to $73 million, up from $43 million in the same period last year. For the full year, Wayfair's losses were $245 million. "While we accept that Wayfair is still a young company and is making investments in technology, infrastructure, and marketing, the fact it has hardly ever been profitable is an ongoing cause for concern," GlobalData Retail Managing Director Neil Saunders said in an email to Retail Dive.
Of course, Walmart is not a young company and has very deep pockets, though it's not clear how much patience the company will enjoy from investors. Several analysts did shrug off this week's digital sales tumble, chalking it up to holiday sales pressure and competition with Amazon, but several also said the retail giant has work to do when it comes to reaching the younger consumers who are turning to Amazon, Wayfair and Target. "They do not associate Walmart with online, or they default to Amazon," Saunders told Retail Dive in a note. "This is a tough nut for Walmart to crack, and one that it can only break by more heavily marketing its services and proposition."
That means more investments by Walmart, like its new furniture play, which go toward "evolving and adapting," despite the hit to profits, Saunders also said. "If it doesn't, it will become irrelevant."