Walmart pulls the plug on Jet.com

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 2,136 views 

Walmart said Tuesday it will discontinue Jet.com, but the retailer did not note when the site will come down or what will happen to the inventory Jet holds. Walmart did say most of the positions within Jet.com have already moved under Walmart.com operations and the Hoboken, N.J., office will remain open.

The Jet.com site was still operational Tuesday, with no messages regarding the closure.

It took Walmart less than four years to pluck what it needed from Jet.com before discontinuing the business that once was a competitor to Walmart. com. When Walmart acquired Jet.com in August 2016 for $3.3 billion, the deal was viewed as bold and needed to help Walmart up its online game to better compete with Amazon.

As with any acquisition Walmart makes, the retail giant gathers up the lead talent, and in the Jet.com case, signs them to a contract for enough time to accomplish Walmart’s goals. Marc Lore, lead founder of Jet.com, took over Walmart.com’s operations in late 2016 and while staying in Hoboken, has overseen the growth of Walmart.com, while also gradually unwinding the company he founded.

Walmart U.S. CEO Doug McMillon wanted to lower prices, broaden online assortment and use the company’s store footprint to help drive online sales in a meaningful way. He said in 2016, the Jet.com acquisition was “a jolt of entrepreneurial spirit being injected into Walmart.” The immediate plan was to help Walmart grow online sales and improve shopping experiences.

While Lore and other top Jet talent did help to grow Walmart. com, the Jet brand has continued to dwindle through several failed attempts by Walmart to keep the business segregated. In 2018, Walmart said Jet would continue to focus on large urban areas like San Francisco, New York and Chicago, where Walmart had struggled to gain a foothold. Within a year that plan seemed to unravel as Walmart had to look for ways to stem losses and instead begin looking for ways to integrate the two businesses.

In 2019, Walmart deliberately gave more focus to Walmart.com for marketing spend at the expense of Jet.com, and Lore justified the move saying, “Across most of the country, we saw we could get a much higher return on our marketing investments with Walmart.com, so we’ve dialed up our marketing spend there.” Lore also said in August 2019 Walmart was integrating the entire Jet business into Walmart.com. Lore said this was a “natural process of integration.”

Lore signed a lucrative five-year contract with Walmart, while other leadership at Jet.com moved on. Liza Landsman ran the Jet.com business for two years following Lore. She left in 2018 and Simon Belsham took over until the position was eliminated the following year, when the leadership moved under Walmart.com in 2019.

Walmart also dismantled Hayneedle, the home goods online business owned by Jet.com and located in Omaha. Last year Walmart announced the layoff of 200 employees at the Hayneedle headquarters in Omaha and folded those operations into Walmart.com. This came after a prior restructuring at Hayneedle by Walmart which also shed 200 additional jobs. Walmart operates the Hayneedle site offering specialty home items and the company’s private brands are also offered on Walmart.com.

McMillon told investors last year Walmart would begin reining in e-commerce losses that were at least $1 billion annually. That meant re-evaluating the online acquisitions made under Lore’s leadership intended to grow the talent and category expertise he deemed necessary to better compete with Amazon. ModCloth was sold in October 2019 and Walmart was also reportedly shopping the upscale men’s apparel business of Bonobos. It’s founder, Andy Dunn, left Walmart in January, after just two years.

Deborah Weinswig, analyst and founder of Coresight Research, noted earlier this year, “Walmart-owned Jet.com looks to be in near-terminal decline.” She said in February, Jet.com saw traffic slide to an all-time low in December, despite strong overall retail sales for the retail industry. Web-traffic firm SimilarWeb reports Jet’s December visits totaled just 1.4 million, tumbling 82.5% from one year earlier and almost 96% from the site’s December peak 2016. Weinswig said this steep decline partly reflected Walmart’s shift of marketing spend from Jet.com to Walmart.com this past year.

Kantar Research reported Jet.com sales declined by 45% in 2019 and the share of household reach for Jet.com declined to 2% from 3% between late 2018 and 2019. Weinswig said Jet.com’s legacy appears to have been to jump-start Walmart.com. This business was up 74% in the first quarter approaching $50 billion by the end of the year.

McMillon said Tuesday the COVID-19 crisis has helped accelerate some of the company’s plans and goals for Walmart.com. Pleased with the first-quarter results, McMillon said there is still work to do, but he credited Lore and his team with getting the assortment right for higher-margin items which were being purchased as consumer’s got their stimulus checks in April.

McMillon said during this unprecedented growth period Walmart is seeing more and more general merchandise being purchased online for pickup in-store or home delivery. He said online grocery pickup has become more like online “all things” pickup.

“Jet.com definitely gave Walmart a ‘runway’ into new capabilities and digital talent so it’s disappearance as a separate platform shouldn’t be seen as a fail. At the end of the day, operating two e-commerce platforms proved distracting and dilutive for Walmart. The corona crisis has further accentuated the need for focus and concentrated effort, particularly relating to clicks-to-bricks integration and driving sales in discretionary categories. Walmart has plenty on its plate without attempting to resuscitate the Jet.com brand as a separate entity,” said Carol Spieckerman, CEO of Spieckerman Retail.

Scott Benedict, director for retail studies at Texas A&M University and former Walmart executive, said from an omnichannel perspective Walmart is “significantly better today.”

“The talent, technology and knowledge and leadership at Walmart have clearly benefited from the Jet.com acquisition. There is no playbook for what Walmart is trying to do today, but its online grocery business has been huge during this pandemic. The company is better equipped today because of the Jet deal,” Benedict said.

Benedict said Lore’s future with Walmart will likely depend if entrepreneurial opportunities continue to exist for him within Walmart.

“Marc Lore has had the opportunity to innovate inside Walmart and help to catapult this business from behind out into the fray. His leadership has Walmart well-positioned for the future. If he can stay challenged to do something special inside Walmart, then he may stay on beyond the five years. Only he knows for sure,” Benedict said.

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