T.J. Maxx is finally back online.
Eight years after the off-price retailer’s first Internet store fizzled — costing the Framingham company $15 million — its new website went live Tuesday, selling women’s clothing, accessories, shoes, and handbags.
“Last time, the website was kind of an afterthought,” said Jennifer Davis, a senior retail analyst with Lazard Capital Markets. “They didn’t put the A-team they have now working on the site. This is a much more legitimate effort.”
But for all the company has at stake with Tjmaxx.com, the online store made a low-key debut, without any fanfare. Parent TJX Cos. — which has been working on the project for two years — previously said the site would be up by late fall. T.J. Maxx officials declined to provide any details prior to the site’s launch.
Even Davis, who closely follows the company, did not know the site was live Tuesday afternoon.
“I’m not too surprised they didn’t make an announcement,” she said. “They want to make sure they can do it right and profitable. They want to start slow and make sure they can handle it.”
That cautious approach likely stemmed from the chain’s earlier e-commerce stumbles. TJX, which also owns the Marshalls and HomeGoods chains, is the largest discount retailer of clothing and home goods in the country, with $26 billion in annual sales. But until now, its Web presence has been weak compared with other large retailers.
The lack of a website probably wasn’t a major concern for the company because sales at TJX’s more than 1,000 stores have been so robust, said Michael Baker, who follows TJX for Deutsche Bank Securities Inc.
TJX’s annual revenue has climbed by more than $1 billion every year over the last decade except in 2009, when the US economy plummeted. Even during that year, the company increased sales by $680 million.
“They haven’t really needed” online sales, Baker said. “Their business has been so strong without it. There hasn’t been a great urgency to launch.”
The first T.J. Maxx website was launched in the United States in 2004 and shuttered a year later after a poor response from consumers. TJX also has a small e-commerce site that went live in 2009 to peddle products to shoppers overseas under the European brand T.K. Maxx.
Analysts said the company struggled more than traditional retailers to get online due to the unusual nature of its business.
TJX gets products for stores from more than 16,000 vendors, purchasing excess runs of designer goods and off-season fashions.
It also designs in-house lines of clothing. Unlike traditional retailers that buy full clothing collections, TJX often purchases small quantities at discounted prices.
As a result, inventory is a hodgepodge of products in random sizes and colors, and quantities of particular items are often limited.
The task of putting T.J. Maxx’s inventory online after the 2004 launch led to a time-consuming and nearly constant cycle of photographing, posting, and pulling products from its website, Davis said.
Analysts expect T.J. Maxx to offer a smaller number of products in greater quantities online this time around. Davis said the assortment of products she has seen on the site includes more designer items than she anticipated. She said sales of such high-end goods will be key to helping the company offset the expense of operating the site.
“It makes economic sense,” Davis said.
TJX acquired the expertise to develop the new site in December, when it spent $200 million to purchase Sierra Trading Post of Cheyenne, Wyo., an online clothing retailer that sells seconds, overstocks, and closeouts.
“We have a very strong team at TJX that has been working on this,” said Sherry Lang, a TJX spokeswoman. “Certainly, the experience and expertise that Sierra brought to the company have been helpful.”
Davis said she does not expect Tjmaxx.com to cut into sales at the chain’s stores.
“Consumers like to shop all kinds of different ways,” she said. “There are some people who shop online and because T.J. Maxx doesn’t have a website, that consumer might not shop at all. It's a way to gain a new customer or an incremental sale from an existing customer.”