Walmart buys online menswear retailer Bonobos

NEW YORK — Walmart says it is buying online menswear retailer Bonobos for $310 million in cash, showing its appetite for hip clothing brands shows no signs of abating as it seeks ways to earn on amazon.

Bonobos, which started out selling pants online, is aimed at male shoppers looking for help creating a wardrobe.

It’s a sign of the aggressive direction Walmart has been taking since buying Jet.com last year and keeping that company’s founder at the helm of its online division. Walmart has since bought clothing retailer ModCloth, footwear retailer ShoeBuy.com and outdoor gear retailer Moosejaw. Walmart focused on brands that appealed to younger shoppers.

The Bonobos deal, announced Friday, is expected to close late in the second quarter or early in the third quarter of this fiscal year. Bonobos CEO and founder Andy Dunn will report to Marc Lore, CEO of Walmart’s US online operations.

“Adding innovators like Andy will continue to help us shape the future of Walmart,” Lore said. “They’ve created an amazing product and customer experience, and that’s not going to change. In fact, Andy will be a big influence on the business, including leading our collection of exclusive brands offered online.

Targeting Bonobos is a good move for Walmart, which is trying to compete with Amazon, which has rapidly expanded its clothing business, says internet consultant Sucharita Mulpuru-Kodal.

“If you create enough of these online startups, you create a significant amount of business,” she said. She noted that Walmart can learn from these millennial customers.

Bonobos started online but, like many similar startups, has also opened showrooms. Guideshops customers can try on pants, shirts, ties, belts and jackets with stylist suggestions. They can order online at the store and have their clothes delivered to their home or office a few days later. The company now operates more than 30 stores in cities including Chicago, New York and Atlanta, and plans to have 100 by 2020. For Bonobos, the acquisition by Walmart will help grow its business.

Still, says Mulpuru-Kodal, it’s a bit “a game of Monopoly.”

“Walmart has huge coffers. Even if one of them is promising, it pays for the rest,” she said.

Bentonville, Arkansas-based Walmart’s online business is gaining momentum but still lagging far behind Amazon. It rose 63% in the first fiscal quarter, compared to 29% in the prior period. This marked the fourth consecutive quarter of gains.

Under Lore’s leadership, Walmart also worked to accelerate the integration between Walmart.com and Jet.com, and tried to leverage its scale in areas such as shipping and sharing its products. Walmart is also starting to offer discounts on thousands of items online only when customers choose to have them shipped to one of the company’s stores for pickup.

Walmart is also launching an incubation lab focused on robotics, virtual and augmented reality, and artificial intelligence projects as it aims to compete more aggressively with Amazon.

Anne G. Cash