retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

Can a sleekly redesigned website, premium fashion and “relatable photography” convince shoppers that Walmart is more than just a middle-of-the-road mass merchandiser?

The brick-and-mortar retail behemoth is banking on its new e-commerce alliance with Lord & Taylor and acquisition of hip brands such as Bonobos and Modcloth to boost its image with more affluent consumers.

The just-launched Lord & Taylor-branded flagship section on Walmart.com features some 125 name brands including Tommy Bahama, H Halston and Vince Camuto. Execs touting the union said the traditionalist, 200-year-old L&T is angling to energize its online presence, while Walmart’s aim is to become a “fashion destination” and elevate the brand. Not to mention pulling out all the stops to challenge No. 1 Amazon’s dominance of online shopping.

(Lord & Taylor has to energize something. As noted in FastNewsBeat below, it has just announced the closure of its flagship Fifth Avenue store in Manhattan.)

My curious piqued, I decided to give L&T on Walmart.com a try.

(Full disclosure: I frequently shop for clothing at Lord & Taylor, in its Connecticut store and online. My Walmart purchases tilt toward plastic storage bins, cleaning supplies and a six-pack of athletic socks. I also use Amazon Prime.)

I clicked on the revamped Walmart.com and the Premium Brands department featuring Lord & Taylor was the first to pop up, showcasing an attractive model in a lavender dress. I toggled over to women’s and looked for one of the trendiest items in fashion this summer – an off-the-shoulder top. I found a blue-and-white striped number from Kensie, just reduced from $69 to $41.40. Bingo.

Here’s where it gets interesting. On the actual Lord & Taylor site, the final cost was $52.28 -- $41.40, plus $3.13 for taxes to my zip code and $6.95 for shipping. On Walmart.com, the total was $44.03 -- $41.40, plus $2.63 in taxes and free shipping since the cost was over $35 – the Walmart.com threshold. The L&T site offers free shipping over $99. Also, the Walmart site instructed “order soon, only 6 left!” in red type.

I searched for the same top on Amazon, and found it through Zappos.com at full price ($69) but free shipping with Prime.

Thinking of Father’s Day, on the men’s side I sought out a classic Tommy Bahama silk camp shirt. I located the Florida Palms design for $125 all three sites: Walmart.com, Lordandtaylor.com and Tommybahama.com, all with free shipping. When I checked Amazon, I located that style on sale, but only in size XL and 3XL for $115 plus $6.50 shipping. (Caveat emptor: These full-cut shirts run big to start.)

Here’s my takeaway. The Walmart.com site is a major improvement over its former static landing spot. The whole look is modern and inviting, the “relatable photos” of real people doing real things surpass the bland stock image photos and the site promises to remember your frequently ordered favorite items.

But will it lure younger, affluent shoppers? I’m skeptical, even though in the case of off-the-shoulder top the tax rate was inexplicably lower on Walmart.com. As reported on MNB, many of the same millennial males who flocked to Bonobos for its cool pants with names such as Graham Slacker and Cappu Chino are boycotting the store now. Some claimed Walmart’s business practices just ran too counter to their beliefs.

I think it’s more about Walmart’s monolithic image as a no-frills, can’t-beat-the-price purveyor of such basics as plastic storage bins, 50-pound bags of dog food, outdoor gear, cases of motor oil and cotton/poly t-shirts retailing for $4.48. Would you shop the site for a new Xbox console? Yes. Business casual clothes? No.

I just don’t see young shoppers thinking “hey, I want to look for really hip distressed jeans on Walmart.com” any more than I see them lining up for beef carpaccio at McDonald’s.

Comments? Send me an email at kate@morningnewsbeat.com .


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