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Jennifer Marks

The Heat is On

January 6, 2014

Welcome to 2014 - the Year of the Internet.
Does that sound a bit out of date? A surprising number of major retailers in the home space are only just getting into the business, while several longtime players are investing in mobile platforms and integration of in-store and online strategies. The battle for market share in the virtual world is hot - and getting hotter.
TJX is the biggest potential game-changer in this arena. The company quietly launched an ecommerce site for TJMaxx in September, primarily with apparel and related accessories. It added a few housewares and gift items for the holidays. The Marshall's and HomeGoods sites are not yet engaged in ecommerce. Consider the fact that TJX's U.S. operation is doing north of $17 billion in annual sales without ecommerce. Imagine what's going to happen to those numbers when TJX really gets cooking.
Pier 1 is another recent arrival to ecommerce, going live last summer. One of its key drivers is "Express Request," which allows shoppers to place online orders in the store and pick them up at the same location within 10 days. In the third quarter, ecommerce accounted for just over 4% of sales, suggesting there's still a lot of runway out there.
Stein Mart also joined the fray last fall. It had little to say about the early performance of the ecommerce business when it reported third quarter earnings in November. Home has consistently been the top-selling department in stores for the past few quarters. The question is to what extent that will prove to be the case in cyberspace.
Big Lots last month announced it would ditch the Great White North in favor of the World Wide Web. Shuttering its Canadian operation will allow the retailer to finally make a play in ecommerce. Big Lots will start building an omnichannel infrastructure this year, with a full launch slated for the first quarter of 2015.
Kohl's completed a re-platforming of its ecommerce site ahead of the fourth quarter in hopes of revving up online sales. Ecommerce in the third quarter rose 15% - which one might consider a good number, but the retailer said it was off pace.
The Bon-Ton Stores spent 2013 enhancing its ecommerce, broadening its assortment along the way. In November, the company said online sales were growing "at a healthy pace."
Elsewhere, JCPenney said home - once its leading online category - by the third quarter had amassed more than 50% of sales. Can it keep climbing? Bed Bath & Beyond, which relaunched its web site in late summer, is investing in an omnichannel strategy about which it - typically - has shared little news. Target recently expanded its in-store pick-up program to all doors, reporting the strongest response for baby goods, furniture and electronics. And ShopHQ (formerly ShopNBC) in the third quarter had grown mobile sales to 22% of all internet sales, up 45% year-over-year.
All of this begs the question: Is the overall pie growing, or are the segments merely shifting around? Probably more of the latter than the former, but any supplier still sitting on the sidelines and refusing to support these efforts is making an extremely risky bet.