Walmart has been the most successful retailer in the United States for decades, but it’s always had one Achilles heel: it’s been unable to set up shop in the nation’s biggest city. Stores have thrived nationwide, but New York has always resisted.
Labor advocacy groups and liberal politicians in the city have been staunchly opposed to the company’s expansion because of its history of low wages and otherwise questionable treatment of employees. It now appears, however, that Walmart has found a loophole in its quest to sneak into the Big Apple.
The New York Times reported that Walmart’s new strategy does not involve establishing a physical presence, but a digital one instead. The company’s e-commerce business, Jet.com, is leasing a 205,000-square-foot warehouse in the Bronx, and the Jet brand is prepared to begin marketing to millennials and younger families with trendy brands and premium products. With names like Big Gay Ice Cream and Dr. Martens shoes in its catalog, Jet may be able to appeal to a more urban clientele in places like Boston, Philadelphia, Washington and, yes, even NYC.
“We believe we can win in New York,” Jet president Simon Belsham told the Times.
Opponents of Walmart’s imperialism remain, though.
“Walmart may think they have found a new, under-the-radar path into New York City by buying up businesses already here, but we should not be fooled,” said New York comptroller Scott Stringer, a Democrat. “We intend to be watching very carefully.”
Walmart has a rather bitter rivalry with the city of New York. It’s tried to open stores in the metropolis before, first in Queens and later in Brooklyn. Both attempts ended badly, as liberal activists turned each business move into a referendum on Walmart’s labor practices. Then, in 2014, a group of New York city counselors accused the Walton Family Foundation of donating “toxic money” to local charter schools.
The hope is that with a new approach focused on e-commerce, Walmart can begin to curry favor in the big city. One key factor that might make Jet appealing is its catalog of available groceries; thanks to Walmart’s strong buying power and aggressive pricing, customers might be able to stock their kitchens cheaper than ever. In addition, Jet will offer products that other grocers like Whole Foods can’t, such as iPhones and designer clothing brands. Add it all up, and you’ve got an e-commerce presence that’s hard to compete with.
“This is a surgical strike,” said Burt Flickinger of Strategic Resource Group. “Walmart could be a top 10 retailer in the city within the first year.”