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Walmart Unveils New Apparel Brands to Check Amazon's Growth

Published on .

Credit: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Walmart is introducing low-cost clothing brands for women, kids and plus-size customers, aiming to lure shoppers as Amazon gobbles up more apparel sales.

The store brands include Time and Tru in ladieswear—which will replace the jettisoned DanskinNow label—along with Terra & Sky in plus-size apparel and Wonder Nation for kids, according to a company presentation to suppliers obtained by Bloomberg News. The George apparel brand, which Walmart brought over from its British unit Asda, will be refocused for men only. The new brands will replace older ones such as Faded Glory, White Stag and Just My Size.

The retailer is "launching new brands, not labels," according to one of the slides presented at the meeting, which took place at the retailer's headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, in late January. "We will cover every aspect of fashion."

The moves are part of Walmart's push to make its apparel business more streamlined and stylish—a response to consumers shifting more of their budgets to experiences such as travel and eating out, rather than clothing. Walmart's new items, such as leggings for $9.96, could also offset the pinch of rising clothing prices, which jumped the most since 1990 last month. If the brands catch on, they could check the encroachment of Amazon, which is now the second-most-shopped apparel retailer, trailing only Walmart, according to a recent study.

The new store brands are already available at Walmart, whose website features a Terra & Sky split-neck T-shirt for $5.96, Time and Tru skinny jeans for $18.86, and a Wonder Nation ribbed tank top for $2.97.

Even after the changes, Walmart's lineup remains spartan, said Wendy Liebmann, CEO of consultant WSL Strategic Retail, whose firm has worked with Walmart in categories outside of apparel.

"As Walmart shoppers have more money to spend again, apparel is an opportunity," she says. "But Walmart's offer is pretty basic, even for Walmart."

The Just My Size brand will continue to be available, but only online. A spokesman for apparel maker Hanesbrands, the plus-size brand's owner, said the company doesn't comment on its business with individual retailers.

Apparel accounted for 11 percent of Walmart's U.S. sales a decade ago, but the company dialed back its ambitions in 2011 after attempts to appeal to more fashion-forward shoppers—including ads in Vogue magazine—flopped. The retailer closed its Manhattan product development office and endured a revolving door of executive reshuffles.

'Trend right'

But over the past year, the acquisitions of apparel startups Bonobos and ModCloth, along with a partnership to sell Lord & Taylor's products on its website, have brought some fashion sense back to the company. About 10 percent of the apparel assortment will be "trend right" and refreshed every three months, according to the presentation, while 40 percent will be "fashion basics" that last six to nine months. The rest, so-called core basics like tank tops, will last all year-round.

Walmart wants apparel to be a bigger part of its burgeoning online business, and last year hired Denise Incandela, a veteran of Ralph Lauren and Saks, to run its e-commerce fashion team. At an October investor meeting, Walmart's U.S. e-commerce chief, Marc Lore, pledged to "elevate the Walmart.com brand" to lure more premium sellers to the site. The idea is to focus on fashion and home decor—two categories normally associated with its rival Target, which is also rolling out new apparel store brands.

The presentation also revealed plans to spruce up Walmart's home decor department, which has seen limited demand due to a lack of new and premium items and a perception of poor quality, according to the slides. In response, Walmart plans to improve the presentation of products, both in the stores and online.

The retailer also gave some details of its partnership with Lord & Taylor, a department-store chain that will have a branded flagship shop for upscale goods on Walmart.com this spring. The site will include apparel, shoes, accessories and jewelry, the presentation showed, along with free two-day shipping. Lord & Taylor will own the inventory and might fulfill some orders through Walmart's dedicated e-commerce distribution centers.

Amazon threat

Improving both its fashion and fulfillment will help Walmart counter Amazon, which is gobbling up market share from Target, Macy's Inc. and J.C. Penney Co., according to a report Thursday by researcher Coresight Research. Amazon Fashion is tied with Target as the second-most-shopped apparel retailer in the U.S., behind Walmart, as measured by number of shoppers, the survey found. One in nine shoppers have already bought Amazon's private-label clothes or shoes, according to Coresight.

Walmart, Target, Amazon and others are fighting over a shrinking pie. Americans now spend just 3.1 percent of their household budgets on clothing, according to government data, down from 6.2 percent four decades ago.

-- Bloomberg News

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