Treasure-hunting in a digital era: TJX’s next find?
How should TJX leverage digital capabilities to augment their existing successful physical retail business?
I consider myself a big user of e-commerce. My groceries are ordered and delivered by Instacart, my utilitarian needs are fulfilled by Amazon Prime, and my clothing purchases are mostly made through Nordstrom online (thank you free shipping and returns!)
There is, however, one brick-and-mortar store that I visit on an embarrassingly regular basis: HomeGoods. Every time I spot one (and there are many here in its home state of Massachusetts), I inevitably pop in and leave shortly thereafter with another candle or photo frame I didn’t need.
TJX Companies Inc. (“TJX”), relies on customers with this exact mindset to walk through the doors of HomeGoods and its other chains, T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s. And it has done so with great success, widely considered to be the “most consistent, most powerful apparel retailer in the United States”, delivering some of the highest financial returns seen in the US retail industry.
Figure 1: TJX Share Price: 1990 – present
However, as retail becomes increasingly online, can TJX keep up by keeping its presence defiantly physical?
Searching for value: TJX’s keys to success
The advantages of internet-based retail sales have been long-touted in this ever-digitizing economy. Customers are attracted to online stores under the presumption of lower prices and increased speed and convenience. How, then, has TJX managed to succeed, especially given the demise of other off-price retailers like Filene’s Basement and Loehmann’s?
TJX offers a unique value proposition to its consumers compared to a traditional brick-and-mortar department store or off-price retailer. Firstly, TJX stocks quality, in-season products, not seconds and past-season stock that failed to sell. TJX often refers to its sourcing function as its “secret sauce”, with over 1,000 buyers and 18,000 vendors globally. TJX purposely keeps lean inventory levels of a wide variety of goods, allowing for quick turnover and continuously fresh stock in its stores. Secondly, because of this, you never know what you will find in a store…and how long it will be there for. Creating this “treasure hunt” ; “buy now or cry later” mentality is something that TJX does exceptionally well, similar to fast fashion retailers ZARA and Forever 21. This is why TJX customers keep coming back, sometimes on a near-daily basis.
Slouching towards digitization?
Compared to the much-touted success of its 3,600 stores, TJX’s online presence is underwhelming. TJX re-opened an e-commerce store for T.J. Maxx three years ago, after shutting it down six years before that. However, there is still no online e-commerce platform for Marshalls or HomeGoods. TJX’s company reports also do not provide any breakdown between online and in-store sales.
This reticence to move to digitization is not entirely surprising. Given their strong physical-store sales growth, TJX has not, as yet, required online sales to heavily drive growth. Further, the nature of TJX’s business brings unique challenges in selling online. The task of placing the company’s wide and ever-changing variety of products online (photographing, posting, inventory managing) is not insignificant.
Perhaps recognizing the limitations of fully taking the HomeGoods business online (high inventory management and shipping costs), TJX has created an app for the store, designed to offer its customers a look at what is currently in stock at their local HomeGoods. Described as an “Instagram for the home design enthusiast”, the app is not a comprehensive guide to the products currently available, but just a taste of what could be available should you choose to step into the store today. The app’s user interface is simple and its photos hastily taken from the retail floor – a far cry from the carefully staged products on the T.J. Maxx website.
Figure 2: HomeGoods App Screenshots
What next for TJX?
Digitization can play an important role to entice new and existing customers to visit TJX’s physical stores. Through posting only pictures of indicative merchandise, their HomeGoods and T.J.Maxx Facebook sites have over 2.5M followers each – an important platform where TJX can increase its efforts to convert browsers into customers.
Further, TJX has markedly improved its e-commerce capabilities since its first foray into online retail. The existing T.J.Maxx, T.K. Maxx, and Sierra Trading Post websites demonstrate TJX’s improved UX abilities. Learning from its initial 2004 failure, TJX is offering a larger number of high-value (designer) products online to offset the expenses of operating the sites. While it is unlikely that TJX will be aggressively expanding this e-commerce presence anytime soon given the sustained and strong financial performance from its physical stores, it should be reassuring to TJX shareholders that the organization is well-equipped for any future expansions of their online presence.
 TJX Investor Information [online] http://investor.tjx.com/
 Hofacker, C. F. (2008) ‘E-tail constraints and tradeoffs’ Direct Marketing, 2(3), 129-143. Accessed: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/17505930810899294
 Kowitt, Beth (July 24, 2014) ‘Is T.J. Maxx the best retail store in the land?’ Fortune [online]. Accessed: http://fortune.com/2014/07/24/t-j-maxx-the-best-retail-store/
 TJX: Our Company [online] https://www.tjx.com/about/tjx_company.html
 The TJX Companies, Inc. Background Information 2016 [online] http://www.tjx.com/files/pdf/TJX-101-2016.pdf
 Ibid. 3
 Ibid. 4
 Dusto, Amy (September 19, 2013) ‘T.J. Maxx begins its second foray into e-commerce’ Internet Retailer. Accessed: https://www.internetretailer.com/2013/09/19/tj-maxx-begins-its-second-foray-e-commerce
 Luna, Taryn (September 18, 2013) ‘Retailer T.J. Maxx quietly relaunches online store’ Boston Globe [online]. Accessed: https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2013/09/17/without-advance-notice-maxx-launches-its-online-store/8HKY5v2OjjV9NK9ofO3DGN/story.html
 Stynes, Tess (November 15, 2016) ‘TJX Results Top Estimates, but Holiday Quarter View Falls Short’ Wall Street Journal [online]. Accessed: http://www.wsj.com/articles/tjx-results-top-estimates-but-holiday-quarter-view-falls-short-1479219087
Student comments on Treasure-hunting in a digital era: TJX’s next find?
Thank you Fay for this post! I am an treasurer hunter myself and would love to see more of these stores online, maybe to even shop between classes.
Here’s a thought: just as they have a different business model for retail, maybe they can differentiate in the online space too. Would it be possible for them to release control over publications or to start bidding processes online following the ‘traseure hunting’ approach?
For example, customers could earn ‘Marshall’s points’ by uploading photos of current products with their price tag, or when informing that a product is no longer available. Similar to what Waze does to get police or traffic reports, TJXs could update products status by using costumers as their main source of information.
Also, they could add a treasure hunt section were the company posts items that can be highly valued by consumers and, for a limited amount of time, let them bet for them.
Thanks for this post Fay!
My mom is a huge TJMaxx and Marshall’s shopper, and totally embraces the thrill of what you term as the “treasure hunt” above. There is certainly a value proposition in providing a platform to discover fashion and housewife bargains in-store and I wonder if this discovery process can truly be recreated online when your inventory list is heavily curated due to the challenges of putting products online, inventory discovery is open to the World Wide Web, and customers must actively search out and click on a page to find the bargain. Stumbling upon a great deal online does not seem to have the appeal of finding that last perfect shirt in your size on the sale rack and tangibly carrying that product home.
On the other hand, an online platform for bargain hunting may have the appeal of providing an easy way to share bargain finds with your friends. You can either be informative and inspire your friends to access this deal or brag to them about this last-in-stock item that you managed to get for a great price. Either way, bargain hunting is becoming “crowd sourced,” which in the zero-sum game of being the one to actually snag the bargains before others could be problematic .