Will Walmart become a fashion destination in 2020?

Photo: Walmart
Jan 15, 2020
Matthew Stern

One of Walmart’s big goals for 2020 is to finally become fashionable.

Turning around some of its digital fashion e-commerce brands is up near the top of the list of Walmart’s priorities for the year, according to reporting on Glossy. Many of the moves Walmart has made in the service of improving its apparel offerings can be attributed to the vision of Denise Incandela, head of fashion and U.S. e-commerce for Walmart.com. During Ms. Incandela’s tenure, Walmart has launched exclusive women’s lines in partnership with Ellen DeGeneres and Sofia Vergara. Ronn Torossian of 5WPR stated that in the coming year the chain would be stepping up its e-commerce fashion game.

For the past few years, Walmart has pursued a revamp of its image as it has found itself going head-to-head with Amazon.com. A slew of acquisitions of Millennial-targeted fashion brands (like ModCloth and Moosejaw) and e-commerce startups (like Jet.com) since 2017 began to give the impression of a new Walmart, one not solely associated with stolid suburban big box stores and apparel basics.

Walmart’s launch of its Store No. 8 tech incubation arm, likewise made public a new kind of Silicon Valley energy coming out of the Bentonville-based retailer. Of the innovations Store No. 8 has experimented with, some have been fashion-related and targeted at a luxury customer base far afield of Walmart’s core customer.

Last year, however, developments at Walmart seemed to indicate a pullback from pursuing a new, hipper image. The chain sold off ModCloth, which it had acquired only two years earlier. The Jetblack personal shopping service, an innovation that came out of Store No. 8, was reported to be losing money, costing Walmart $15,000 annually per member, and the chain was looking to spin it off. And Bonobos founder Andy Dunn, who joined Walmart as SVP of digital brands after the retailer acquired the men’s brand in 2017, stepped down, as well.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: After Andy Dunn’s departure, ModCloth’s sale and so on, is Walmart still positioned to establish itself as a destination for fashion? What do you see as the best way for Walmart to accomplish that goal?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"The best way for Walmart to accomplish this goal is to keep on doing what they’re doing. They are chipping away and making a name for themselves in the fashion world."
"This is Walmart? It makes one forget the horrendous Walmart apparel shopping experience of even six months ago."
"They are providing a much better UX than Amazon and Target on telling their online customer what is the hot trend."

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19 Comments on "Will Walmart become a fashion destination in 2020?"

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Neil Saunders

In stores, Walmart is a long way from being a fashion destination. Its assortments are largely basic, merchandised in an uninspiring way and cater to those wanting relatively cheap products. That doesn’t mean to say there aren’t some fashion-forward pieces in there, but they get lost in the general welter of product. Turning this around will be tough, and changing perceptions even tougher.

In the digital world, Walmart has made more progress. There are some better brands on the website and presentation via pages like “The It List” are good. Our data show more fashion shoppers are visiting Walmart.com, although there is still a long way to go before Walmart fully builds its credentials in the fashion space.

Ed Rosenbaum

My first reaction when reading this was, are they serious? I admit I am not the biggest Walmart fan or shopper. But the times I have been there leads me to wonder what they have planned. They have to have a strategy to make it happen. I don’t think they have shared that. No matter what, they will have to attract more customers who would be interested in purchasing fashion items. Maybe they are trying to bring in more of the T.J.Maxx or Bealls customers.

Evan Snively

Success for Walmart in the fashion space will need to lean heavily on a successful online presence. This may come as a shock, but between the giant claw machines and receipt checkers that greet you through the sliding doors and a floor staff that will have 0 interest in merchandising and actually helping a customer shop, I don’t think their brick and mortar stores are optimized for an apparel shopping experience.

Art Suriano

Walmart has an opportunity to build its fashion brand because it has tremendous awareness both from its many stores and online. They can appeal to younger people who typically do not have much money to spend on clothes. So, with the right designs, marketing, and promotion, there is no doubt they can be successful. The problem with fashion is that it has a short time frame of success because styles and desires change rapidly. So the more significant challenge if they achieve success is to find ways of staying one step ahead with designs and competition. But Walmart has continued to do many things right and has remained successful. If they decide they want to win in the fashion world, I am confident they will find a way to make that happen.

Bethany Allee

If you would have asked me this question a year ago, the answer would have been a hard pass.

Walmart is not my typical shopping destination – for any goods. Over the past year, I’ve found myself in Walmart twice – and both times, I impulse purchased several items of clothing. The clothing game at Walmart has been upped and I would say that Walmart completely outdid Target when it came to seasonal wear this year – not only in variety and originality, but also sizing.

The best way for Walmart to accomplish this goal is to keep on doing what they’re doing. They are chipping away and making a name for themselves in the fashion world.

Dick Seesel

Walmart has tried (and failed) for years to raise its fashion profile in its stores. There is a big difference, however, between the cachet of its e-commerce acquisitions and its ability to translate this into mass appeal.

Target’s newly reported results should be a cautionary note. It’s made headway in apparel (with some impact on Kohl’s women’s sales) but still had a disappointing holiday season — due to toys and electronics.

Message to Walmart: Focus on what you do best instead of trying to become something you’re not.

Paula Rosenblum

While Walmart has done a tremendous job in cleaning up its image, making it a fashion destination is still a stretch.

It’s not so dissimilar to asking if Amazon can make a luxury version of its site work. The answer there was the same. Not so much.

I think Neil is riight…the company has made great strides in its digital presence. But its in-store shopper is its in-store shopper. And the last time Walmart tried this, it ended up with a lot of inventory to get rid of. I just don’t think times have changed that much.

Dave Bruno

No matter who comes or goes in the executive suite, and no matter which celebrity endorsements/designers they hire, I think Walmart’s brand image will prevent them from becoming a fashion destination. They have spent hundreds of millions of dollars building and entrenching that value-based brand image. I just don’t think they will be able to rise above all that brand equity in fashion.

Jeff Sward
There are several very different paths here. Yes, Walmart can be more fashionable in their stores. That is separate and distinct from acquiring or building a new brand online. Walmart gets no halo effect from Bonobos. I look no further than Primark or Target to see what’s possible. Primark executes opening price point fashion brilliantly. It might not get featured in Vogue, but that was never the point. Accessible, current, on-trend fashion is the assignment. And it’s a damn difficult assignment at that. Gap has proved that for years now. It’s very difficult to strike the balance between safe basics and the right level of story-telling novelty and fashion. And it’s not just executing the fashion. The harder part may be picking the customer to go after first. Boomer? Middle-aged? Gen X, Y, Z…? Target a current customer base? Attract a new customer base? The hollowing out of the boring middle creates an opportunity for Walmart. Pursuit of the grocery business will create the traffic. Now give the customer a reason to meander over to… Read more »
Richard Hernandez

I tend to agree with all parties so far — this would definitely be a stretch in-store, but big strides could be made online. However there would have to be a big awareness campaign letting customers know that Walmart wants to be your destination for fashion. It will be a big hill to climb…

Tony Orlando

This may work for the younger less affluent generation, but my wife and many of her friends would never buy a thing from Walmart as far as clothing for themselves goes, and with the deals Macy’s, Dillards and others all the time, there is little chance to think about buying anything fashionable at Walmart. Pajamas for little kids, a quick t-shirt for my son, or some socks is a about it. Target has a better selection for the value consumers, and T.J.Maxx as well.

Georganne Bender

Walmart as a fashion destination? Maybe online but in-store? Nope.

There’s not a lot of cool in Walmart stores, but that hasn’t really been the point, has it? Walmart is about low prices.

Masses of apparel on rounders and stacked on tables ain’t fashion, kids. There will need to be changes made on the sales floor and a whole lot of marketing to make consumers equate Walmart with fashion.

Cynthia Holcomb

Denise Incandela has managed to flip the digital fashion presentation and cool product switch on at Walmart.com. This is Walmart? It makes one forget the horrendous Walmart apparel shopping experience of even six months ago. Translating the controlled digital fashion vibe in-store gets messy, requiring housekeeping and merchandising by humans. Online Walmart women’s apparel, fashion, price point and presentation of product is now competitive to Target. In-store, Target wins the fashion vibe and merchandising trophy.

Gene Detroyer

I think it is a matter of how you define “fashion.” If you define fashion as what people wear, sure they are doing it now. If you define fashion in terms of being fashionable, you can’t hurdle it with Ellen or Sophia.

If I am a Walmart shopper and I want fashionable, maybe I go to H&M, Marshalls or Express.

Stephen Rector

Walmart is trying very hard to become a fashion destination online and targeting a different customer online than they are in-store. They are providing a much better UX than Amazon and Target on telling their online customer what is the hot trend. By adding interesting and unique online only brands like Scoop and Sofia Vegara denim, they will continue to differentiate themselves from the other mass retailers online and I predict there will be more new brand launches coming soon.

Doug Garnett

Walmart isn’t only competing with Amazon and online — it’s Target who has mastered the ability to use big names to give their daily wear fashions some velocity.

Where should Walmart focus? A mid-life student once explained Target’s success to me. She liked Target’s designer brands because her daughter wasn’t embarrassed to be wearing clothes bought at Target. “Bought at Walmart” isn’t a fashion statement for a teen or pre-teen. They will have to put a lot into advertising and branding in order to make “from ____” into something a teen accepts…maybe even wants.

Ryan Mathews
Walmart grew into the world’s largest retailer based on two simple principles: lower income shoppers deserve personal respect and quality items at reasonable prices; and, stay true to your market and they will stay true to you. I’m not saying the average Walmart shopper shouldn’t be offered higher fashion options, but Walmart is not going to become a fashionista’s first stop in the near term at least. Part of Walmart’s problem here is that it pays attention to what younger shoppers want in terms of product, but not how or why they buy. There are lots of new definitions of status out there in fashion, and almost none of them are addressed by Walmart. Those old enough to remember may recall Kmart and Gitano’s efforts to go into what I call the “affordable upscale” market. It ended up hurting both brands. Andy Dunn wasn’t going to be Walmart’s savior, and his departure isn’t the first sign of their demise in this space. But it does highlight a fundamental difference of vision about how you understand… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom

“Fashion” died with Coco Chanel … or someone, but it certainly doesn’t exist as it did eighty or sixty or even forty years ago. Of course there are still designers who sell outrageous designs — for even more outrageous prices — at trendy boutiques, but this really has nothing to do with Walmart. Still, it is capable of selling clothes one isn’t embarrassed to be seen in, and I see no reason why it can’t sell more of them … and that’s really all that matters.

David Naumann
David Naumann
Retail Industry Analyst
8 months 8 days ago

Changing consumers’ deep rooted perceptions of Walmart that are far from a place for fashion, is a monumental challenge. The best option is to develop a new brand or acquire an existing brand that has an established reputation. Keeping the brand separate from Walmart will help prevent any potential brand degradation.

"The best way for Walmart to accomplish this goal is to keep on doing what they’re doing. They are chipping away and making a name for themselves in the fashion world."
"This is Walmart? It makes one forget the horrendous Walmart apparel shopping experience of even six months ago."
"They are providing a much better UX than Amazon and Target on telling their online customer what is the hot trend."

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