Walmart’s apparel ambitions are increasingly focused on the youngest of consumers, kids, as the retailer tries to expand its share of the clothing market through new clothing lines and collaborations.
The new Free Assembly Kids collection, launched last week, includes nearly 50 styles priced between $6 and $36, and follows a partnership inked earlier this year with tween brand Justice to add clothing and accessories to Walmart.com and about half the retailer’s U.S. stores.
These efforts to appeal to kids’ fashion senses, particularly the introduction of Free Assembly Kids, have been seen by some as Walmart’s answer to Target’s Cat & Jack line, as well as a shot at Kohl’s, Old Navy and other category leaders. Walmart has also spent the past year bolstering its adult clothing options, launching Free Assembly men’s and women’s clothing last September and bringing A-list celebrity designer Brandon Maxwell on as creative director for two of its in-house private-label brands.
“Through our ongoing strategy of expanding our assortment for our customers, we’ve shown that we’re serious about establishing Walmart as a fashion destination,” Denise Incandela, senior vice president of the women’s group, elevated and online brands at Walmart, said when Free Assembly was launched.
Up Against Amazon
Even with new fashion brands, though, the Arkansas heavyweight has struggled to make any serious progress in capturing more of consumers’ clothing and apparel spend. Since the beginning of 2020, according to PYMNTS data, Walmart’s share of the market spiked only briefly in the spring and early summer of last year, shortly after the pandemic began, before dropping to its lowest point in the second quarter of 2021.
To be sure, Amazon’s clothing and apparel sales were also slow to take off when it made a concerted effort to get into fashion in 2016, but last year, it had nearly 16% of consumers’ clothing spend — up six percentage points versus 2019.
To be sure, some of the growth likely comes from the accelerated adoption of eCommerce over the past 18 months, but Amazon has also made strategic moves over the last several years that positioned it to take advantage of consumers’ digital desires, including the launch of Amazon Prime Wardrobe and a personal shopping service.
The Great Wardrobe Refresh
The NPD Group has said the U.S. apparel market is up 10% compared to 2019, generating $13.3 million more in revenue in the first eight months of this year than two years ago, and Mastercard SpendingPulse also reported earlier this week that apparel sales were up 56% year-over-year in September and up 15.6% on a two-year stack.
But as consumers continue to refresh their wardrobes after their pandemic solitude, they may be looking for retailers who are better known for their style expertise. Levi Strauss & Co., for example, saw revenues jump 156% in the second quarter of this year and 41% in the third quarter, while Nordstrom reported a 101% year-over-year jump in its second quarter sales, though net sales were down 6% compared to 2019.
Additionally, this is not Walmart’s first attempt at becoming more fashionable. In 2011, the retail giant shuttered an office in New York’s garment district and pulled back ads in Vogue magazine when initiatives did not go as planned. And in 2019, Walmart sold ModCloth, an online fashion site tailored to young women, just over two years after acquiring it because the business was unprofitable.
This time around, though, Walmart says it has gotten “great feedback” on its expanding fashion options, and the fact that it’s adding kids’ clothing to an established adult line may be a sign that the box store chain is willing to keep investing in the space long term. But it likely comes down to how well Walmart can execute on its vision — and whether consumers have room in their closets.