(Bloomberg)—Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will add products from Lord & Taylor to its website, bringing together America’s oldest department store with its biggest retailer in a push to take Walmart’s dowdy brand upmarket.
The products are expected to be available on Walmart.com next spring, the companies said in a joint statement on Monday. Walmart, No. 3 in the Internet Retailer 2017 Top 500, seeks to establish itself as an online fashion destination, Denise Incandela, head of fashion for Walmart U.S. e-commerce, said in an interview.
“We know that we have a wide range of customers on Walmart.com, and an expanded assortment is what they are looking for,” she said.
Walmart wants to burnish its online brand and dive deeper into fashion, where rival Amazon.com Inc. (No. 1) has also expanded aggressively in recent years. For Lord & Taylor’s Canadian owner, Hudson’s Bay Co. (No. 81), the deal provides another channel for sales at a time when its department stores are reeling from slow mall traffic and a shift to e-commerce.
Liz Rodbell, Lord & Taylor’s president, said in an interview that the chain would be the “exclusive premium department-store partner” of Walmart and that the companies have a “long-term relationship plan,” without providing more details.
Rodbell and Incandela said their companies are working through terms of the partnership now. Lord & Taylor products will be available via a dedicated section of Walmart’s website.
Elevating the brand
Adding Lord & Taylor could make Walmart.com more attractive for other high-end brands, not unlike how Amazon convinced Nike Inc. (No. 37) onto its website earlier this year. At an investor meeting last month, Walmart’s U.S. e-commerce chief Marc Lore pledged to “elevate the Walmart.com brand” to lure more premium sellers to the site, with a focus on fashion and home decor—two categories normally associated with its rival Target Corp. (No. 20).
Walmart’s acquisition of Lore’s startup Jet.com last year gave it access to younger, higher-income shoppers, and since then it’s added brands like Bonobos, ModCloth and Moosejaw to the mix. Lore also recently hired Incandela, who is a veteran of Ralph Lauren and Saks.
Walmart has tried—and failed—to reach more fashion-forward consumers before. A decade ago, a revolving door of apparel chiefs tried everything from ads in Vogue magazine to exclusive partnerships with pop star Miley Cyrus, but little clicked as shoppers preferred Target and Kohl’s Corp. (No. 18) for affordable duds. In 2011, Walmart closed its apparel office in Manhattan—not far from Lord & Taylor’s iconic flagship store—to focus on more basic clothing.
“We don’t need to be on Broadway to sell socks and underwear and T-shirts,” a spokesman said at the time.
Lord & Taylor, meanwhile, has called Manhattan home since 1826, when English-born Samuel Lord opened a store on Catherine Street stocking hoisery and cashmere shawls. He was later joined by a partner, George Washington Taylor, and the business expanded, eventually opening the Fifth Avenue headquarters in 1914, now a New York City landmark. Hudson’s Bay operated 50 Lord & Taylor stores as of July 29.
Last month, Hudson’s Bay agreed to sell the Manhattan Lord & Taylor building to a group including office-sharing company WeWork Cos. and unloaded a minority stake to a private equity firm to help it cut debt.
With roots in the fur trade, Hudson’s Bay is North America’s oldest operating retailer. It has been hurt by an industrywide sales slump that’s prompted job cuts and other measures to turn the company around, such as centralizing its digital and marketing operations The company is also facing pressure from an activist investor to monetize some of its real estate holdings, as well as an unsolicited bid for its Kaufhof chain in Europe.
Executive chairman Richard Baker has returned to the helm as interim chief executive officer after the departure of Jerry Storch last month, and is overseeing efforts to deliver a strong holiday season and reverse a 39% decline in the shares over the past two years.