February 15, 2017, 3:33 PM

What Wal-Mart’s Moosejaw deal means for both retailers

Moosejaw CEO Eoin Comerford wasn’t looking to sell, but Wal-Mart made an offer too good to refuse.

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Quirky outdoor retailer Moosejaw wasn’t for sale. But several months ago, out of the blue, a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. representative called Moosejaw CEO Eoin Comerford to inquire whether the retailer would be interested in talking about a sale.

“He said they are very interested in the outdoor vertical and loved what we were doing with our brand voice and the relationships we bring to the table,” Comerford says. “They basically cold-called me.” Comerford declined to comment further on negotiations.

Fast-forward to Wednesday morning, when Wal-Mart, No. 4 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide, announced it had acquired Moosejaw (No. 261) for $51 million and that Comerford and his team of 350 employees would remain in place.

“It was too good to pass up in terms of what this means for Moosejaw and to grow the Moosejaw brand,” Comerford says “It’s just an incredible opportunity.”

Part of what made this such an incredible opportunity, Comerford says, is the fact that it comes with access to Wal-Mart’s myriad resources, which Comerford says will help to expand the brand’s footprint in the long-term.

“Part of the strategy here is for Wal-Mart to bring all of its scale to somebody like Moosejaw so we can then reinvest those savings into marketing and really amplify our presence,” Comerford says. “It is providing capital for growth, which is key. Also, it’s being able to leverage those other platforms in terms of the marketplaces on Jet or on Wal-Mart, and then the sites themselves. We’re talking to the brands that we carry and it’ll be their choice as to whether they want to be on those sites. It’s a different conversation when they realize they’re going to have Moosejaw, a trusted partner, managing their brand presence on those marketplaces.”

Mark Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia University, says this particular acquisition doesn’t make much sense to him.

“You make strategic acquisitions that build out your capabilities,” he says. “That’s what Apple does. Apple acquires companies and people that it covets that can become part of fabric of its organization and then makes an occasional large acquisition like Beats. An acquisition should enhance a company’s brand, give it access to new customers and that doesn’t turn off its existing customer base. That’s not what Wal-Mart is doing here.”

The Moosejaw deal is the latest in a string of e-commerce acquisitions for Wal-Mart. In August, the retailer ponied up $3.3 billion to acquire online marketplace startup Jet.com, a deal that included bringing on Jet co-founder and CEO Marc Lore. As part of the deal, Lore took over as president and CEO of Wal-Mart’s e-commerce operations. Last month, Wal-Mart bought online shoe and apparel retailer ShoeBuy.com Inc. (No. 101) for $70 million.

Veteran retail analyst Matt Nemer, recently of Wells Fargo Securities and now a managing director at investment banking firm ComCap LLC, says the trio of acquisitions illustrates a shift within Wal-Mart’s corporate offices, and that leadership at the retail giant is getting even more serious about e-commerce.

“This isn’t a quiet strategy to go out and buy Jet and these other deals,” he says. “They’re putting capital to work. There’s been a real mindset change at Wal-Mart, and I [initially] questioned the commitment level from the board to be a big force in e-commerce. You’d have to look at the Jet deal and ShoeBuy and [Moosejaw] and come to the conclusion that the Wal-Mart board is really serious [about e-commerce].”

The Moosejaw deal reminds Nemer of Amazon.com Inc.’s 2009 purchase of online shoe retailer Zappos.com in a deal valued at $847 million in terms of what this means for Wal-Mart’s overall strategy.

“I don’t think you are necessarily going to know when you’re on Moosejaw.com that you’re part of the Walmart.com family, just like when you’re on Zappos.com, it’s not apparent you’re in the Amazon neighborhood,” Nemer says.

Wal-Mart and Moosejaw attract different types of shoppers. Moosejaw is known for selling higher-end outdoor brands such as Patagonia, The North Face and others on its site, while Wal-Mart highlights value and low prices.

According to Top500Guide.com data, 52.36% of Wal-Mart’s online shoppers have an annual household income of under $60,000, while the majority of Moosejaw’s online shoppers (59.77%) have an average annual household income of more than $60,000. Moosejaw also boasts an average online order value that is 16% higher than Wal-Mart’s, an Internet Retailer-estimated $145 compared to $125.

Comerford says he doesn’t expect Moosejaw’s approach to change under Wal-Mart’s ownership. “Moosejaw will continue to be a standalone business that continues to go after that high end of outdoor retail.”

Even so, the deal could benefit Wal-Mart by enabling it to introduce itself to a host of brands that don’t currently sell on Wal-Mart. That’s part of why this deal reminds him of the Amazon/Zappos marriage.

“Amazon didn’t have access to a lot of [major] footwear brands, and Amazon went out and bought [what was then] the largest online footwear retailer,” he says. “In the case of Moosejaw, Wal-Mart doesn’t really have access to a lot of these brands like Patagonia, and not that Patagonia is going to put their product on Walmart.com. It immediately gives them access where they can start to have conversations with brands.”

The Moosejaw deal also gives Wal-Mart instant access to the retailer’s customer base and, perhaps more importantly, the trove of data Moosejaw collects about those shoppers.

“[Wal-Mart] is going to get a whole lot of data about a customer that they’re probably not seeing in their stores or on their website,” Nemer says.

While Wal-Mart’s acquisition spree should help Wal-Mart instantly diversify its product catalog and potentially its customer base, Nemer says, but it could present some logistical headaches down the line.

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