Refashioning Wal-Mart

Lone Primate (flickr)

Lone Primate (flickr)

Lone Primate (flickr)

No one sells more clothes in America than Wal-Mart. Yet only 10% of Wal-Mart’s $258 billion business is generated from apparel and accessories. Unlike their supermarket business with slim margins, apparel is one of the retailer’s most profitable categories. Over the years Wal-Mart has veered from too basic to too fashion (read sparkles on jeans). The apparel team has moved from Arkansas to New York and back to Arkansas. Meanwhile, their competitor Target, which accrues 20% of its revenue from clothing and has hip designer collaborations, has America all dressed up. What should Wal-Mart do?

Something for Mom
“Wal-Mart is very middle America – normal, mainstream, no-nonsense shopping,” says mom-of-two Jamie Reeves of Nashville, Tennessee, who blogs at Blonde Mom Blog. Reeves shops at the Wal-Mart near her home and at another close to her office, but says she prefers Target. “I don’t know a woman who doesn’t like Target.
“I don’t feel like I could go into Wal-Mart and buy a whole outfit from head to toe, whereas at Target, I could go in there and buy a whole outfit that is competitive with higher-end brands. I wouldn’t shop at Wal-Mart for accessories. Old Navy has cute scarves and accessories. At Wal-Mart their accessories and shoes are too cheaply made.”
“A lot of the junior-type fashion is too young and the other stuff seems too matronly.” So what should Wal-Mart do? “If they could strike a balance for the 30-something mom – that would work.”

Poach Forever 21
Atlantis Home blogger Judy Aldridge of Dallas, Texas, never shops at Wal-Mart. “It gives me a panic attack.” And it’s not that she’s adverse to fast fashion. “Stores like Forever 21 prove you can have stylish clothing at a very affordable price. Maybe they need to hire away some of the creatives at Forever 21?”
Wal-Mart already has a group of 20 mom bloggers, Wal-Mart Moms, but Aldridge suggests the Arkansas-retailer reach out to fashion-forward teen bloggers. “Think about someone like Tavi [Gevinson of Style Rookie] – they should collaborate with her and allow her to bring her quirky fashion sense.” Again, Target got there first. Gevinson was the inspiration for Target’s Rodarte line. Check out this very cute video of Gevinson and Rodarte’s Mulleavy sisters for Target.

Back to Basics
Malibu-based stylist Katharine Polk shops at Wal-Mart every couple of months. “I love going and zoning out; walking up and down every aisle.” Polk gets straw hats from the gardening department, bikinis in solid colors for “a good price” and maxi dresses for summer.
If Polk was chief merchant at Wal-Mart she would focus on basics. “As a stylist, my closet is filled with stacks and stacks of white t-shirts and black tank tops. This is an area that should be Wal-Mart’s core business. If you focus on fit, at a low price point you don’t need to worry about over designing. It can be hard to find true basics because designers feel a need to over-embellish and over design. True basics can be difficult to find. Wal-Mart could really tap into that and expand.”

What would you do to fix Wal-Mart’s fashion business?

felicity loughrey

Judy Aldridge at home in Dallas, TX. Photography by Douglas Friedman

9 Responses to “Refashioning Wal-Mart”

  1. TheRetailAnalyst

    In fashion, WalMart’s quality is low and its shopping experience is weak. It has no cool factor like Forever 21–but because they are a very private company only insiders really know how Forever 21 achieves their prices especially given they have a lot of high cost real estate. WalMart stands for price, low price. What they do best is distribute commodity product at the lowest cost possible. Style is not what defines them. Target had to figure out how to differentiate themselves from WalMart or face extinction like Caldor’s, Ames, Bradlees, etc etc. Fashion and style was the only way for Target. Now WalMart’s dilemma is they’ve already captured all the lowest income shoppers, there’s no where to go but up. Unfortunately for them that doesn’t square with their low cost mantra. They’ll keep trying in fashion, but will keep winning in commodities. For WalMart Its not about focusing on the highest margin categories, it about driving sales volume through low prices.

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