Clean Up in the Ecommerce Aisle: Walmart’s Gutsy Moves in Acquisitions and People

Think ecommerce advances, and Amazon races to mind. And my credit card statement would agree.

Unless Walmart gets there first.

Yes, Walmart. The company’s recent string of acquisitions — including upscale men’s brand Bonobos in June, announced the same day Amazon announced its acquisition of Whole Foods — points to an assertive and fascinating strategy.

Equally fascinating? The people involved that are joining the already impressive .com team in San Bruno, Bentonville, and beyond.

What of Jennifer Fleiss, tapped to lead Walmart’s Code Eight, the first portfolio company within Walmart’s new tech incubator? That incubator is Store No 8, named for the Arkansas site that Sam Walton favored for store layout experimentation. It will invest in the likes of robotics, machine learning, artificial intelligence and virtual and augmented reality. Fleiss was a cofounder of Rent the Runway, an organization that considers itself “a fashion company with a technology soul,” according to its own website. “Powered by a transformative business model, proprietary technology, a unique reverse-logistics operation and some of the smartest people on earth, we’re in a position to challenge old systems and rewrite new rules.”

How about Katie Finnegan, Walmart’s VP of incubation and a new principal of Store No 8? Previously, she was a senior director at Marc Lore, of course, president and CEO of, was founder and CEO at (now also a Walmart company).

Other 2017 acquisitions like Moosejaw (outdoor recreation apparel and gear) and ModCloth (fashionable vintage style) included retaining two CEOs I am proud to know, Eoin Comerford and Matt Kaness, respectively, among other employees. Before taking the helm of Moosejaw, Comerford was the company’s SVP of marketing and technology; Kaness, meanwhile, was chief strategy officer at Urban Outfitters.

Altogether, it makes for a flavorful and diverse soup that satisfies appetites in tech, strategy, and creative verticals. Moosejaw and ModCloth have each lovingly been called “quirky” on more than one occasion. Both have loyal audiences, too — and not necessarily the kind of folks you’d associate with the Walmart of years ago. Same with Bonobos. And yes, founder and CEO Andy Dunn is still on board, too.

Clearly, this isn’t yesterday’s Walmart even though acquisitions and all things digital have been a top priority of the organization for years.

Whatever comes of Walmart with the new companies and new people under its umbrella, the forward-thinking stance has surely brought a significant boost in attention.

But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows — even with a digital dream team. Some previous customers of Bonobos and ModCloth have vented concern and frustration through social media.

But if Walmart was able to convince these industry leaders to step onboard — Moosejaw’s Comerford told Internet Retailer he was basically cold-called about the idea — they may well have luck with customers, too.

Including those who consider Amazon their prime.