PALM DESERT, CA – Walmart launched several new apparel brands on Tuesday as part of a plan to refresh the category and better compete. And it's just the beginning of a category refresh that will cross channels.
There are four new brands: Time and Tru and Terra & Sky for women, Wonder Nation for kids and George for men. George is an existing brand developed by ASDA and brought to Walmart stores following that acquisition in 1999. It was part of a push to grow apparel sales at that time, an initiative that never really took off.
But times have changed and establishing apparel both online and in stores is even more critical as Walmart competes head to head with Amazon, which is growing its apparel business, particularly in private label.
"The goal is to bring new life into the fashion statement," Sarah Veit Wallis, Walmart global e-commerce vice president and general manager of lifestyle, said during a session at eTail West. "To bring in on-trend clothing while continuing the retail ethos of fabulous quality and fabulous value."
In addition to supporting the brands online, Walmart plans to rollout a series of upgrades to stores with new signage and fixtures, added Preston Bottomy, general manager of menswear, accessories and prestige beauty for Walmart.com and Jet.com. By fall 2018, the majority of stores will have upgraded apparel displays and include more signage throughout the departments. Some stores will also be remodeled to include more open floor plans and upgraded fitting rooms.
Three existing labels will be retired, including Faded Glory which "will be sunsetted," Wallis said. "And the new brands will deliver what those older brands have in terms of value and quality. It's a refresh."
It's just the beginning for Walmart as it seeks to improve apparel offerings. Part of the program includes a partnership with Lord & Taylor intended to bring higher-end brands to the discounter's online assortment. The intention is to grow margins and assemble a fashion lineup that could convert shoppers who don't often think of Walmart for these items.
"We're looking for opportunities to expand the assortment," Bottomy said. "We're rethinking for customers that shop for grocery or technology, but haven't considered us for fashion. We're seeing a massive shift in online penetration in the fashion category — 20% of fashion spend is online, according to Forrester, up from one third of that 10 years ago."
Shoppers are increasingly comfortable buying apparel online for a variety of reasons noted Bottomy. "If customers are shifting their spend to online, you have to have the assortment online." Bottomy and Wallis declined to address questions from a moderator about the distinctions between and the future roles of Jet.com and the Walmart banner. Each currently serve a purpose, Wallis said.