|How Walmart turned its $3.3 billion acquisition of Jet.com into its greatest weapon against Amazon|
September 29,, 2017
Jet's office in Hoboken, New Jersey, still feels as though it belongs to a startup. Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider
Inside Jet's headquarters in Hoboken, New Jersey, a year after Walmart acquired it for $3.3 billion, the company still feels very much like a startup.
- Walmart acquired Jet.com roughly one year ago.
- Jet executives say the acquisition has let them chase a more specific customer: the urban millennial.
- Jet's president, Liza Landsman, says it was important for Walmart to "let Jet be Jet."
A pool table, with felt in the company's signature purple, is next to the chairs in the visitors' waiting area. Visitors are required to take a selfie with an iPad upon registering with security. The conference rooms on one floor have comic-book-themed names. And there are plenty of snacks to be had in the pantries on both floors.
It may be part of the world's biggest retailer now, but Jet still has its own personality.
The goal of the site, which burst onto the scene in 2015 as the brainchild of the e-commerce pioneer Marc Lore, was to shake up a crowded online marketplacef and take on Amazon. Jet experienced rapid growth and, in total, raised $500 million in venture-capital funding from heavy-hitting investors like Goldman Sachs, Fidelity, Google Ventures, Forerunner Ventures, and Bain Capital.
When Walmart purchased Jet in August 2016 — 13 months after the site's launch — and made it a wholly owned subsidiary, questions swirled from business analysts, journalists, and consumers: Does Walmart really need another e-commerce site? Will Jet.com be shut down? Does the world really need another online retailer? Is Walmart " lighting money on fire," as one analyst put it at the time of the sale?
For Jet's executive team, a year after the acquisition, those questions can be answered: yes, no, no, and no.
Jet is finding its footing under the Walmart umbrella, and the company's role as part of the largest retailer in the world is becoming clearer as it amps up the fight with Amazon online and goes after a customer Walmart couldn't easily reach.
A new era for Jet
Jet's president, Liza Landsman. Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider
Jet's president, Liza Landsman, helped launch the site in July 2015.
"I definitely have lipsticks older than the website," Landsman told Business Insider.
Landsman took over after Lore became head of Walmart's e-commerce initiatives in January. She previously was Jet's chief customer officer, an experience that no doubt colors her approach to the brand now.
Landsman says it's critical for Jet to build an "emotional connection" with customers, one that's not purely transactional.
One example is what Landsman calls "little sparkly moments" — like the celebration animation you see when you check out on the site — which she says create "emotional highs" for customers.
"Those are things we learned over time through experimentation with our consumers," Landsman said before stopping abruptly.
"Sorry — we're not experimenting with our consumers," she said. "Through experimentation and from our consumers."
Changes over time The Walmart acquisition has certainly changed Jet in some ways.
Jet focuses exclusively on chasing the urban millennial — a slightly more affluent demographic than the typical Walmart customer — and its initiatives are now viewed through that lens.
"They have been our bread and butter since the brand began," David Echegoyen, Jet's head of marketing, told Business Insider. "Think about it as continuing to serve the people who told us they favored us."
That was part of what attracted Walmart to Jet. Walmart has historically struggled to make inroads with the urban-dweller demographic, and its number of stores in urban areas remains low.
Walmart's acquisition of Jet allows it to chase a more specific consumer: the millennial urban dweller. Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider
Jet is now Walmart's key to that customer, and everything about Jet is designed and implemented with that in mind, from its checkout and shopping experiences to initiatives to get packages to people who rent apartments in buildings without security guards to receive them. For the latter, Jet partnered with the startup Latch to install keyless systems for delivery workers to enter apartment buildings and leave packages.
That said, don't expect to be able to pick up a Jet order or drop off a Jet return at a Walmart store. Because the customers overlap so little, that integration is not high on the priority list, and the experiences are being kept separate — for now.
This new mandate also lets Jet chase wealthier shoppers, and it's stepping up its efforts to curate the broad assortment of Walmart and Jet products to do so.
Products from Walmart's recently acquired e-commerce brands — namely ModCloth and Bonobos — will both be available on Jet.com soon, and the website is also leveraging the power of Walmart's broad network of vendors to offer premium brands, like those of upscale beauty products.
It's the "best of both worlds," Echegoyen said.
Uniquely J organic, fair-trade, Peruvian coffee. Jet.com
Jet is also launching a private-label brand, called Uniquely J, with a focus on serving that urban-millennial customer.
"From the boldly designed packaging to the fun, witty label copy and quality ingredients — everything was designed with this metro consumer in mind," said Meredith Klein, Jet's director of public relations.
The label will offer things like coffee, olive oil, laundry detergent, and paper towels, with other categories on the way.
It might be more useful to think of what Jet has changed about Walmart, instead of the other way around.
Though it's cliché to say large brands now need to "think like a startup," Walmart is doing just that, according to Lore. And a large reason for that is Jet.
Jet can act as an innovation pilot for Walmart, and it was the genesis of some of Walmart's bolder new initiatives. For example, Walmart's new associate-delivery program — where a Walmart employee will deliver your order to your doorstep on their way home — was "home-brewed" at Jet, with the idea that distribution-center workers would deliver goods.
But that idea is a lot more powerful if, instead of using the smaller footprint of warehouses, it uses the much larger footprint of Walmart's network of thousands of stores across the country — nearly 90% of the US population lives within 10 miles of a Walmart, CEO Doug McMillon said in May.
"While we were hypergrowth for a startup, nothing compares to the truly awe-inspiring scale that is Walmart," Landsman said.
Jet's signature purple is throughout its office. Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider
The initiatives are important for Walmart, which is heavily investing in online retail to better compete with Amazon. Walmart's total revenue of $490 billion still dwarfs Amazon's $150 billion, according to an estimate of data from eMarketer from the past year, but Amazon's revenue growth is reason for concern.
Amazon still dominates e-commerce, with $101.5 billion in sales over the past year, according to an estimate by eMarketer. While Walmart does not break out online sales in its earnings reports, eMarketer estimates it had $17.7 billion in the past year.
So close you can feel it
Looking out the floor-to-ceiling windows of Jet's Hoboken headquarters, you get a sweeping view of Manhattan. It's a quick, 15-minute train ride from New York City, which is a bit representative of Jet: close to the action, but not in the center of it all.
That might be the way Jet prefers it.
"One of the things that's been really important to Walmart since Day One ... was making sure we created a path forward that let Jet be Jet," Landsman said.
One of the assumptions amid the Walmart acquisition was that it would completely change Jet's corporate culture, sucking the life out of it and turning it into just another corporate subsidiary. That hasn't been the case.
Some conference rooms allude to the office's New Jersey location, like this mural of a young Frank Sinatra, who was born in Hoboken. Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider
Still, the acquisition hasn't always been smooth sailing. The Wall Street Journal reported last year that Walmart had tried to ban booze in Jet's office and asked employees to curb their swearing. It didn't last.
Landsman said that McMillon "and some members of his senior team regularly check in and make sure they're not 'hugging us too tight.'"
While there's still no startup-esque fridge full of beer, Jet staff members are quick to point out that the company has numerous happy hours: one every week, with every fourth held off-site.