By Thomas J. Ryan
Moving deeper into the branded shoe business, Walmart acquired ShoeBuy.com for approximately $70 million. The Boston-based online footwear, clothing and accessories retailer will become part of Jet.com, the online start-up of bulk products acquired by Wal-Mart in September.
The move underscores the continued push by the world’s largest retailer to catch up with the world’s dominant online seller, Amazon, which owns Zappos. Last year, Walmart made online expansion its priority with plans to invest billions more building its digital presence while reducing new store openings. But its commitment to online growth was most signified by its whopping $3.3 billion acquisition of Jet.com.
Jet’s founder, Marc Lore, an e-commerce veteran who co-founded Quidsi (Diapers.com, Soap.com, etc.), aimed Jet.com to compete directly against Amazon.com, undercutting its prices by providing bulk discounts. Walmart acquired Jet.com in part to reach new customers. Jet.com attracts “urban Millennials” while Walmart has attracted shoppers with low prices and a variety of pick-up options.
At least initially, Jet.com will be the prime beneficiary of the ShoeBuy.com acquisition. Indeed, the ShoeBuy purchase largely mimics Jet.com’s February 2016 acquisition of Hayneedle, an online home furnishings retailer, which helped boost its foothold in home categories.
Mike Sorabella, ShoeBuy’s CEO; Bob Mullaney, ShoeBuy’s president and COO; as well as the online retailer’s 200-plus employees will continue to be based in Boston and will join Walmart’s e-commerce organization. The site will run independently of Jet.com and Walmart.com, though shoe brands that sell on ShoeBuy will have the option of expanding their reach onto the other sites.
“Jet will gain the experience of a well-established e-commerce player in the footwear industry, who has transformed the online shopping experience for millions of customers,” said Walmart in a statement. “ShoeBuy brings access to a large assortment of products, strong industry relationships and rich content that will further enhance our customer experience.”
At the same time, Walmart’s expertise and clout is expected to benefit ShoeBuy.
ShoeBuy, founded in 1999, was one of the first companies to sell shoes online. It carries more than 800 brands and more than a million items including footwear for women, men and kids, as well as apparel and accessories, such as outerwear and handbags. It receives over 3 million unique visitors on a monthly basis. In 2006, ShoeBuy was acquired by InterActiveCorp (IAC), whose chairman is Expedia chairman and media mogul Barry Diller.
ShoeBuy’s concentration in footwear and apparel is expected to speed up Jet.com’s penetration of those categories by several years. According to a report by Slice Intelligence from July 2016, Jet.com’s biggest category is electronics & accessories, making up 19.9 percent of its sales followed by home & kitchen at 19.5 percent, healthy & beauty, 13.7 percent and grocery & gourmet foods, 12.3 percent.
Meanwhile, Jet will try to boost ShoeBuy’s traffic, as it is well behind the online footwear leader, Zappos, which was acquired by Amazon in 2009 for $1.2 billion. But Amazon is also aggressively pursuing the soft goods opportunity. Apparel and accessories was the top category for online commerce, outpacing computer hardware, the long-time leader, for the first time in 2015, according to ComScore.
Overall, Amazon generated $16.3 million in apparel sales in 2015, according to “Behind the Online Apparel Boom,” a research report from Internet Retailer. Boosted by the launch of seven private-label apparel brands early last year, many market watchers are predicting Amazon will become the largest U.S. clothing retailer in 2017. Walmart is currently the largest seller, with $24 billion in apparel sales.
Just this week, Amazon was also reportedly said to be among the interested bidders in bankrupt American Apparel and was said to be working on developing its own workout apparel collection.
But Walmart’s investments are also likely to continue. In an interview with Recode, Lore, who now runs both Jet.com and Walmart.com following Walmart’s acquisition of his company, said it’s “a fair assumption” that Jet and Walmart form other partnerships such as the one with ShoeBuy, most likely “in the categories where they are long-tail, high-margin products and harder-to-crack brands.”
Photo courtesy ShoeBuy