April 17 (Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc's bid for clothing retailer Bonobos, which surfaced last week, is the latest step in the company's attempt to recover lost ground against Amazon.com Inc and others in the rapidly growing online fashion world, analysts and retail consultants said.
If Wal-Mart succeeds, the move into fashion also would advance its effort to access younger, millennial customers who usually do not shop on Walmart.com.
A Bonobos deal would mark the company's fourth acquisition of a small online clothing-and-accessories brand since the start of 2017. The bid was first reported by Recode on Friday. Wal-Mart has declined to comment.
The move is in keeping with an online strategy led by Marc Lore, the founder and former chief executive of internet retailer Jet.com, who took over Wal-Mart's e-commerce business in August, after Wal-Mart paid $3.3 billion for Jet.
Wal-Mart is the world's largest brick-and-mortar clothing retailer, with 2016 sales exceeding $23 billion, according to retail think tank Fung Global Retail & Technology.
But despite its traditional muscle, the Bentonville, Arkansas, company has been unable to replicate that success online. It has not only struggled to attract the type of affluent young consumers who tend to shop for clothes online but has also faced challenges in persuading well-known apparel brands to sell on its website.
Wal-Mart's online sales account for only about 3 percent of total sales, the company has said. In the second half of this year, it is targeting online sales growth of 20 to 30 percent.
In its push for a bigger online presence, Wal-Mart so far has bought ShoeBuy, which specializes in footwear and apparel; Moosejaw, which sells outdoor wear; and ModCloth, an online seller of women's clothing. In March, Lore said at an industry event that Wal-Mart will make more acquisitions to expand its business rapidly.
Jan Rogers Kniffen, chief executive of retail consultancy J. Rogers Kniffen WWE, said the deals could begin to add up, though so far they are too small to have a material impact on Wal-Mart. "It gives them a totally separate vehicle to grow with fashion brands and to own fashion brands," he said.
Wal-Mart's move also aims to stem the loss of market share to Amazon in the highly competitive fashion sector. Amazon leads the U.S. online clothing and footwear market with sales of $13 billion in 2016, up $9 billion from five years ago.
It is expected to triple its share of the U.S. apparel market over the next four years, according to data from Euromonitor and Forrester.
Macy's Inc, Nordstrom Inc, Gap Inc, Kohl's Corp, L Brands Inc and J.C. Penney Co Inc also compete in the segment.
Howard Davidowitz, chairman of retail consulting and investment banking firm Davidowitz & Associates Inc, said Wal-Mart's prior efforts to buy market share through acquisitions have not succeeded. "They have been involved with this strategy for a long time. How has it done? Terribly," Davidowitz said. "Marc Lore has continued this strategy." Lore did not respond to a request for comment. Wal-Mart has been investing in e-commerce for the past 15 years, but it still lags far behind Amazon. In the five years before the Jet.com deal, Wal-Mart acquired more than 15 start-ups. The company has not disclosed what it spent on each deal, but said in January it had spent a total of $3.1 billion on e-commerce and digital projects in its prior four fiscal years. (Reporting by Nandita Bose in Chicago and Gayathree Ganesan in Bengaluru; Editing by David Greising and Matthew Lewis)