Why TJX Is Really So Skittish About E-Commerce

Written by Frank Hayes
March 21st, 2012

Is TJX about to re-enter E-Commerce? Depending on your point of view, that event is either a ways off (and certainly not imminent) or it has already happened. Yes, TJX CEO Carol Meyrowitz said last month that that the retailer sees a big future in E-Commerce—but she’s said that during every earnings call for the past year. And if, as Meyrowitz said, TJX has already assembled its E-Commerce team, what’s holding things up?

One answer: Nothing—in fact, TJX has been doing E-Commerce since 2009 in Europe. A different view: TJX really doesn’t want to be the next

Meyrowitz’s comments over the past year suggest that TJX is well on its way to a return to E-Commerce, though not in 2012. (The chain launched online stores for TJ Maxx and HomeGoods in September 2004 and shut them down a year later after racking up at least $15 million in losses. Since then, its U.S. Web sites haven’t sold anything but giftcards. The company wouldn’t comment on its plans beyond what it has already said in earnings calls.)

Last May, Meyrowitz said the retailer had developed an E-Commerce team and “done a lot of research.” In August, she told analysts that TJX was “absolutely hiring top [E-Commerce] talents and getting them involved in our business,” but refused to set a timetable for an E-Commerce launch. Then, last November, she sounded a note of E-Commerce caution: “We’ll take our time, test and retest,” Meyrowitz said. “We’ve got Europe testing and helping us get some additional information.”

That sudden interest in testing and retesting makes more sense when you remember that Meyrowitz was speaking just weeks after’s massive meltdown in September. Like Target, TJX bailed out of online retail in the U.S. years ago. The specter of a Target-style collapse with a shiny new TJX E-Commerce site is the sort of thing that will encourage a CEO to go very slowly.

But unlike Target, TJX didn’t hand everything off to Amazon after its first E-Commerce effort ended. TJX has been selling merchandise through its U.K. site for almost three years. That operation doesn’t run through the sales volume that a U.S. site would likely have. But it has already dealt with issues such as the off-price chain’s continuously changing inventory and competition with the full-price retailers that supply TJX with that inventory.

Those are problems that retail analysts have trotted out to explain why TJX still hasn’t returned to online selling. But they’re solved problems at the U.K. site.

The problems that haven’t been solved aren’t in the retail model. They’re on the IT side. And presumably, the E-Commerce team TJX assembled a year ago has already concluded that the U.K. site can’t simply be scaled up for use in the U.S.


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