Walmart’s Fashion Empire Is Growing — Here’s Why That’s a Big Deal

When it comes to fashion, Walmart is checking off all the boxes.

The megaretailer — which has already added footwear e-tail, outdoor product and men’s dress shirts to its arsenal in the past two years —  on Monday announced its plans to acquire plus-sized digitally native fashion brand Eloquii.

“As the retail landscape evolves at light speed, we remain firm in our belief that it’s not just about selling brands; it’s also about building brands and customer relationships,” said Andy Dunn, SVP of digital consumer brands at Walmart U.S. eCommerce, about the company’s latest buy. “As such, we are laser-focused on developing a portfolio of direct-to-consumer brands with a unique assortment you can’t find anywhere else.”

The news follows the company’s August rollout of a partnership with high-end retailer Lord & Taylor, which saw Walmart add more than 125 premium brands to its site including Frye, Timberland and Badgley Mischka.

Aside from its Lord & Taylor partnership, Walmart in 2017 acquired a bevy of fashion-focused brands, including ShoeBuy.com (now Shoes.com), ModCloth and Bonobos as it pushes to compete more heavily in the fashion space and nab a larger share of consumers’ wallets. Walmart’s fashion push also sees it leveling the playing field against Amazon, whose highly publicized Whole Foods acquisition in 2017 marked its foray into groceries, where Walmart had previously had a foothold.

Meanwhile, Walmart has also beefed up its in-house fashion brand offerings in recent months, selling more elevated private-label clothing and footwear. (These brands tend to appeal to a more budget-conscious consumer, with prices staying below the $50 mark.)

Although its burgeoning fashion presence has been widely cast as win for Walmart, as the megafirm sinks its teeth deeper into the space, fears of antitrust violations often crop up among smaller players.

“It’s true — people are concerned,” George Hay, antitrust litigation expert and senior professor of law and economics at Cornell University Law School, told FN of Walmart and Amazon’s wheeling and dealing last year. “[However], the claim that [Walmart and Amazon’s activity] is tending toward monopolization is silly because a monopoly generally means there’s only a single supplier or maybe two or three [in an industry]. Retailing is nowhere near that. You’ve got hundreds of [other options].”

Nevertheless, only time will tell if Walmart’s expansion into fashion will spell doom for other brands or retailers — or if it will benefit the consumer by creating healthy competition among the industry’s big players.

“The main thing to focus on in the next two to three years is, does it look like consumers are going to be better or worse off?” Hay said. “And the answer is almost certainly that they’re going to be better off as a result of all of this innovation and shaking up.”

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