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WALMART—BUT MAKE IT FASHION

Walmart is borrowing luxury’s playbook to gain an edge on Amazon in fashion

Denise Incandela
Patrick MacLeod for WWD
Denise Incandela talks to WWD’s Evan Clark.
By Marc Bain
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Denise Incandela, who joined Walmart a year ago to oversee fashion on Walmart.com, Jet.com, and Shoes.com, knows that her employer’s name is more likely to conjure thoughts of canned corn, toothpaste, or cat food than attractive clothes.

“Why would [shoppers] consider fashion from our platforms?” she asked rhetorically at WWD’s Digital Forum in New York on Sept. 13. “It’s certainly what we’ve been spending all our time on over the last year.”

Incandela believes she has the answer to that question, based on her luxury background (paywall) as president of global digital at Ralph Lauren and before that working as a top executive at the high-end retailer Saks Fifth Avenue. The lessons she learned in those jobs are playing a part in a “major transformation” at Walmart, to make its sites destinations for clothes shoppers and attractive partners to fashion brands.

Both will be important if Walmart wants to keep Amazon at bay. Multiple sources estimate that the online giant will surpass Walmart as the largest clothing retailer in the US this year.

Incandela has undertaken a variety of projects to remake Walmart’s approach to fashion. Among the big ones have been improving product photos and creating editorial content that offers styling advice and direction, both hallmarks of higher-end e-commerce. “We’ve been very focused on bigger images, cleaning up the site, creating a beautiful shopping experience,” she said, “because whether the dress is $15 at Walmart, $200 at Jet, or $2,000 at Saks, it should look beautiful.”

Walmart has also been expanding the breadth of brands across its sites, adding some 1,100 fashion labels just since April. Importantly, the brands aren’t just made available everywhere. Some brands exist in the dedicated Lord & Taylor shop on Walmart’s site, for example. Others appear on Jet, but not on Walmart.com. Incandela also announced that Jet will be launching the first of what it hopes will be many specialized brand experiences: Nike will start selling directly on Jet.

Of course Walmart has not been known for offering the best fashion shopping experience in the past, so it has to overcome that perception to gain an edge. But Amazon faces some similar challenges: It has struggled at times to attract more premium brands, which are always concerned about how their products will look, what they’ll be shown next to, and how consumers will perceive their labels if they’re on Amazon.

Becoming a fashion destination may look like an uphill climb for both Walmart and Amazon, but overall, they have reason for optimism: Customers keep flocking to big platforms (pdf, p. 25), and they’re two of the biggest out there.

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