BOSTON — Wal-Mart hasn’t sold as much as a T-shirt on its Web site for three years, but that could be about to change.
The world’s biggest retailer may soon relist apparel on Walmart.com, suppliers and industry executives said. Speculation centers on a small-scale launch, possibly focused just on the company’s George brand, for back-to-school. Walmart.com staffers in recent months have attended apparel merchandising meetings to familiarize themselves with fall goods.
“This is a matter of flicking the switch for Wal-Mart,” said Marshal Cohen, co-president of NPDFashionworld, a consulting company in Port Washington, N.Y., describing the ease with which the retailer could bring apparel back. “They are very serious about doing this.”
About $8 billion worth of apparel was sold online in the U.S. in 2003, according to research firm ComScore Media Metrix. With Walmart.com capturing 8 to 10 percent of the entire Internet audience each month, the company has the clout to make an impact in apparel. Neither of Wal-Mart’s direct competitors — Kmart and Target — offer a broad selection of apparel online. Target.com consistently sells Isaac Mizrahi and a selection of its flagship designer brands, but the assortment can be an odd mix of styles and seasons. Currently, for example, the site is offering sandals alongside a Mossimo fur-trimmed parka.
Wal-Mart, based in Bentonville, Ark., already sells about $20 billion worth of apparel annually through its 5,086 stores, according to industry estimates. On its Web site, Wal-Mart sells a pricier range of goods, such as diamonds, premium electronics, furniture and gifts. It also offers convenience services such as photo uplinking, music downloads, DVD rentals and flower delivery. It carries 600,000 sku’s, compared with 120,000 sku’s for the average supercenter.
A Wal-Mart spokeswoman was noncommittal when asked about apparel on the Internet. “We continue to explore the option of apparel on our site, but have not made any official announcements,” she said in an e-mailed statement.
Although Wal-Mart does not disclose financials for its Web operations, chief executive officer and president Lee Scott disclosed at an analyst meeting after the June shareholders meeting that the division was not yet profitable.
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