Walmart is flipping the script on the traditional buyer/seller relationship—and the strategy is getting the world’s largest retailer ahead of the game by nabbing emerging brands. The approach has been particularly fertile for working with Black-owned brands and emerging indies. The chain has already doubled its representation of Black-owned brands and there is even more potential, the company said.
Take the recent blockbuster deal with Sharon Chuter and her new exclusive line at Walmart called UOMA by Sharon C. Traditionally Chuter would have had to facilitate a meeting or schedule time with Walmart at a trade show. There are also effective tools like RangeMe Walmart uses, but in this case it all started with an Instagram Direct Message. Walmart’s buyer for trend cosmetics Amanda Fenske DM’ed Chuter who, at first, thought it could be a hoax. Chuter took a leap of faith and responded. At the time, Chuter was talking with a few brick-and-mortar retailers to launch a diffusion brand of her popular UOMA. After meeting with Walmart, she knew they wanted more than “just a Black founder” to show on a website. A more accessible line was mission critical to Chuter, who wants to practice what she preaches—in other words, not just serve the prestige market.
UOMA by Sharon C. is just one example of how Walmart is getting more aggressive in beauty. The retailer wants to be top of mind for exclusives and new launches. In fairness, Walmart did ink an exclusive with Flower by Drew Barrymore and scooped up the Hard Candy collection. However, Target is frequently associated with being the “go to” mass-market retailer for exclusives. That’s changing. Walmart has been upgrading beauty for the last decade, but in the past year under the direction of Musab Balbale, the Vice President of Beauty who moved over from Jet.com, the chain zoomed into warp speed. His goal is to coax even more of the 165 million people who shop Walmart per week into the beauty aisles.
“We changed the way we talked to brands; we pitched them on our strength of sales and the accessibility we offer. We started to share more about our customers. What I would tell brands is we are incredibly open right now. We want to hear from brands in many ways… RangeMe, email, LinkedIn, DMs, Instagram, etc.,” said Balbale.
Since the beginning of the year, Walmart has been on a torrid new product expansion pace, adding more than 40 brands. The new items span several categories and include: celebrity makeup artist Joyce Bonelli, Lottie London, the gender inclusive C’est Moi skincare line, the Gen Z-focused Bubble skin brand, cult favorites like Baddie B Lashes, Packaged Party, Sky Organics, Urban SkinRx, Cake, Brite Hair, Crayon Case, Rita Hazan, and Kim Kimbell. Walmart expanded successful partnerships such as Hairitage by Mindy McKnight while tapping into successes in the market such as TPH by Taraji P. Henson with the addition of that brand that bowed at Target.
Walmart is using off-shelf displays to help introduce the newcomers, many that are linked to influencers or celebrities. Bubble skincare, for example, crafted its own endcaps that tout the brand’s celebrity ambassadors including Outer Banks stars Rudy Pankow and Madison Bailey, gymnast Laurie Hernandez, activist Jazz Jennings, and musicians/former Dance Moms star Kenzie Ziegler.
Makeup artist Joyce Bonelli launched her line in 2,500 Walmart doors. Joyce Bonelli Cosmetiques is housed in stores with a dedicated endcap for her four key products (including a glitter mask) that retail for $25 and are exclusive at Walmart. “It’s not fair that only the 1 percenters get to use the most luxurious and best products,” Bonelli told BeautyMatter in regard to her selection of Walmart for her debut. “As a girl, Walmart was everything to me,” she said recalling the Mary-Kate and Ashley Collection.
Walmart is also modernizing how it reaches consumers including harnessing the power of TikTok. Recently the retailer tested a livestream linked to the launch of Bubble hosted from Kenzie Ziegler’s account.
Walmart is rethinking the status quo. The chain is testing collapsing textured hair and general market haircare into one area—a strategy that reflects how consumers shop for hair. It is texture; not ethnicity.
The powerhouse retailer invests in fledgling brands and, rather giving them a deadline to hit or miss to, the team stays in constant contact to tweak as needed. Walmart works with brands to start slow—perhaps a small swatch of stores to start.
While it may seem the launches are all in the indie or influencer space, Balbale says heritage brands have stepped up their efforts as well, giving a nod to lines like Maybelline, L’Oréal, and CeraVe. “We launched powerhouse brands, such as L’Oréal’s Cell Renewal Midnight Serum,” Balbale said. Balance is key, he added.
The company reorganized the beauty department merging e-commerce and store teams for synergistic advantages. To hit his goals, Balbale has built a diverse team of more than 20 people with wide-ranging mass and class backgrounds. On his LinkedIn he praised the team with “accelerating the ambition, creativity and speed with which we are evolving Walmart beauty.”
One of the biggest challenges for Walmart is also one of its advantages—its massive store count. Stamping out the new programs is a herculean task. Some stores sport gleaming new departments while other older doors are still dated. Walmart is dividing and conquering—using analytics to help match the right products with the right stores. Stores can’t be upgraded overnight, but Walmart is moving with more speed than ever. If Balbale has his way, beauty is going to be a much bigger sales contributor in the future.
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