How Marshalls Is Going to Make E-Commerce Work

Marshalls is making its push into e-commerce.

The discount retail chain — which has historically relied on its “treasure hunt” shopping experience in brick-and-mortar outposts — has announced plans to take its business online. Although its website offers a store finder, gift cards and other features, the digital platform is expected to include actual merchandise when it launches this year.

During its fourth-quarter earnings call on Wednesday, TJX Cos. president and CEO Ernie Herrman said, “Our strategy with our Marshalls.com site will be similar to our successful approach with [TJMaxx.com]. We plan to operate differentiated mix online, similar to how we differentiate our stores. Our strategy is to maximize multichannel engagement and drive incremental sales.”

According to the Framingham, Mass.-based corporation, the contrast in product assortment online versus in stores is intended to prevent the cannibalization of sales and allow the e-commerce site to serve as “complementary” to its physical business. Its subsidiary TJ Maxx similarly debuted its online platform in 2013, with the channels providing different merchandise.

“We’ve learned a lot with TJMaxx.com,” Herrman said. “We’re going to apply that to Marshalls. We really believe that it helps to drive incremental store traffic, given that a large percentage of our returns online go back to our stores, and so it’s going to encourage cross-shopping.”

Off-price retailers like TJ Maxx, Marshalls and Ross have managed to thrive amid digital competition and the so-called retail apocalypse — even with TJX’s relatively small online footprint. Herrman previously credited the company’s flexibility, particularly its ability to consistently refresh inventory and provide consumers “the instant gratification of being about to touch and feel the merchandise and take items home the very same day.”

TJX’s latest earnings report boasted comparable-store sales that were up 6 percent, outpacing its full-price competitors including Macy’s and Nordstrom, which posted only modest gains in the same period.

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