Target rolls out web-only brands

January 18, 2013 01:03 PM

Target Corp. is taking its online competitive drive up a notch with six new brands for apparel and home furnishings offered only on its e-commerce site,

“We’re excited about these new brands and how they’re helping us further differentiate from other online retailers,” Theresa Schmidt, a divisional merchandise manager, said on a Target blog this week. “We know our guests are increasingly connected and are shopping online more, so we wanted to offer guests something new, unique and unexpected.”

The brands are: Labworks for women’s apparel; Zutano Blue for infant clothing; Room 365 for colorful bedding products; Boho Boutique for table linens, bedroom and bath products; Too by Blu Dot for home décor products “with a sense of humor”; and MudHut, which features bedding and other products in styles including Mexican, Moroccan, and silk Uzbeki weavings.

“The campaign is part of Target’s efforts to offer guests a great online shopping experience that—similar to Target stores—includes differentiated, exclusive products that deliver on Target’s ‘Expect More. Pay Less.’ brand promise,” a spokesman says.

Target’s roll-out of brands featured exclusively on gets mixed reviews from industry analysts.

The retailer’s online-only brand strategy is not surprising—and in fact complements its long-running strategy of building a reputation for strong brands in its stores, says Jim Okamura, managing partner of retail consultancy  Okamura Consulting. “This strategy isn’t necessarily good for every retailer, but it absolutely fits Target,” he says. “Target has always done well in telling a good brand story in its stores, and this is an extension of that strategy to their relatively new and fast-growing web site.” Target launched a new e-commerce site in August 2011 after migrating off of an e-commerce platform provided by Inc.

He adds that Target’s placing displays in some stores to promote its online-only brands is a good way to appeal to consumers who shop both online and in stores. “It gives the shopper a sense that there is a different product selection online,” he says.

But Paula Rosenblum, managing partner at research and advisory firm Retail Systems Research, argues that offering brands on a regular basis online-only is a questionable strategy for a retailer that sells primarily through stores. “I cannot imagine online-only items or brands as an ongoing strategy for Target. It doesn’t really make any sense,” she says.

Rosenblum adds that offering brands exclusively online makes more sense for testing new concepts and demand, or for clearing out products that don’t fit in stores.

Okamura agrees that offering brands only online, at least temporarily, is a good way to test products. “I’m sure they carefully selected which brands had the potential to become big, and the online channel makes sense as a testing environment,” he says. “If they prove successful, you could see a gradual roll-out to stores.”

A Target spokesman says the retailer has no plans to offer the new brands in stores, but adds that he wouldn’t rule that out over the long term. “We think this differentiates us from other retailers online,” he says, “but we’re always evaluating adding things to our stores, so that’s a possibility.”

 Target is No. 23 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.





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