retail watch | Oct 24, 2023 |
HomeGoods quits e-commerce

Say what you will about Halloween-themed throw pillows and “Live Laugh Love” signs—HomeGoods is quietly one of the country’s most successful retailers of, well, home goods. The TJX-owned brand has built a network of nearly 1,000 stores across America, and has been savvy about giving its customers exactly what they want. Which makes it all the more surprising that last week, HomeGoods quit e-commerce.

A number of reports have said the off-price chain would be shutting down its online store at the end of the month and that letters had gone out to customers advising them of the fact. TJX has not made any official statement, but the site speaks for itself: As of today, HomeGoods’s homepage is little more than a store locator.

This e-exit comes barely two years after HomeGoods launched its online business (following years of speculation about when it would get in the game). Other TJX brands, including T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, have e-commerce operations, and there have been no reports of discontinuation or disruption.

In its analyst calls since 2021, TJX has said its online business is quite small, implying that it could never amount to a substantial percentage of its overall business. That runs counter to prevailing trends: Most national retail chains now get between 15 and 30 percent of their overall sales online, and some run substantially higher. TJX’s explanation for its long delay in entering e-commerce was about managing inventory and trying to re-create the “treasure hunt” shopping experience that is a foundation of its physical stores.

To which, one can only say, “Really?”

A sophisticated logistical retail powerhouse like TJX that can apportion limited inventory levels to thousands of physical locations surely could figure out how to piggyback online stock as part of the overall mix. Yes, it’s hard, but harder than store-inventory management? Difficult to believe.

Then there’s the reality that a growing portion of the TJX merchandise mix is no longer opportunity buys—or discounted designer goods that have trickled down the supply chain from higher-end home stores—but is instead becoming programmed-out, reorderable goods that the company obtains directly from suppliers or even overseas factories. It’s the same as Macy’s or Walmart or any of the dozens of other retailers across the merchandising spectrum. Those products alone would more than populate a website.

Next, let’s look at the supposed treasure-hunt angle. Yes, it’s important in their stores, but isn’t online shopping one giant treasure hunt where shoppers go down ever-deeper rabbit holes looking for bargains? Surely that experience could be re-created online with the same smarts HomeGoods uses in its stores.

These are all very good reasons why HomeGoods—and TJX in general—can and should continue to sell online. But there’s one more: Maybe the rate of growth of e-commerce has slowed post-pandemic, but it still accounts for just shy of a fifth of all retail sales in America right now. Is the company willing to walk away from 20 percent of its revenue potential for reasons that still aren’t clear? And if so, what do shoppers have to say about all of this, much less shareholders?

When Amazon first came along nearly 30 years ago, traditional retailers all said it would never work, and they took forever to admit they were wrong. It’s why Jeff Bezos’s powerhouse had such a head start and is believed to do at least 40 percent of all general merchandise e-commerce in the country right now.

Well, it’s not 1997 anymore. TJX was late to the online world, and now they are going backward. Only time will tell if they pay a price for it, but lesser mistakes have brought down bigger retailers.


Warren Shoulberg is the former editor in chief for several leading B2B publications. He has been a guest lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business; received honors from the International Furnishings and Design Association and the Fashion Institute of Technology; and been cited by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and other media as a leading industry expert. His Retail Watch columns offer deep industry insights on major markets and product categories.

Want to stay informed? Sign up for our newsletter, which recaps the week’s stories, and get in-depth industry news and analysis each quarter by subscribing to our print magazine. Join BOH Insider for discounts, workshops and access to special events such as the Future of Home conference.