Shirley Leung

Online, T.J. Maxx is a bit sleepy

Blue? No, tan. Click. They’re mine.

I don’t know what was more shocking: The fact that I could buy anything Gucci from T.J. Maxx — in this case, a pair of rain boots — or the fact that I could actually order something online from

Nearly a decade after having given up on the Internet, T.J. Maxx is once again trying its hand on that not-so-newfangled concept of e-commerce. The Framingham-based discount retailer, which relaunched its site last month, returns to a crowded online marketplace with sophisticated shoppers who expect a lot more. This is the retail equivalent of Rip van Winkle: T.J. Maxx fell asleep to dial-ups and desktops and woke up to iPads and iPhones.


I’m one of those shoppers whom T.J. Maxx probably wished was still stuck in 2004.,, Gilt Groupe, Rue La La, — each in its own way has trained me to want fast-loading sites, enticing photography, daily designer deals, free shipping, customer reviews, and endless choices.

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The average consumer spends nearly $1,500 annually online, according to Forrester Research, and I wish, or maybe my husband does, that I stayed within that number.

I am the sweet spot for Web retailers: a time-starved working professional who in a prior kid-free life loved to shop in stores. My last trip to the mall was a reminder of why I should stick to browsing on my iPad. It involved bouncing a fussy baby while trying on three-inch heels at DSW, followed by an emergency diaper change in a fitting room.

Online sales, which represent about 10 percent of total retail revenues, are expected to generate $262 billion this year, according to Forrester, and that figure is expected to grow to $370 billion by 2017.

For people like me, buying over the Internet is not only convenient but an increasingly enjoyable way to buy everything from cat food to boots. It’s not about avoiding the sales tax anymore.


Is up to snuff? Clearly, TJX, the parent of T.J.Maxx, is making a bona fide effort. There are models and multiple shots of each product, and shoppers can scroll through more than 100 items per page with ease. There are enough women’s clothes for me not to get bored, and I love the Runway section, which features high-end designers like Diane von Furstenberg and Escada, labels I rarely find in stores.

The shoe selection, however, is abysmal. Carrie Bradshaw would never approve, despite being able to find $180 Gucci rain boots. Many brands are no-names, and the ones that I have heard of I would never buy. Case in point: Paris Hilton.

And if you’re a guy, or if you’re shopping for a guy, you’re out of luck. In fact, you can sooner buy a Halloween costume for your dog than buy a dress shirt for your husband.

I ordered twice from Both packages arrived, as expected, in a little less than a week. I’ll probably return everything, but that’s the nature of online purchases with a 30 percent return rate.

I wanted a second opinion, and I got one from Josh Berg, director of product management at, a Boston online retailer that has 16 million monthly visitors and is on track to sell $1 billion in furniture and home decor this year. It’s the biggest local website you’ve never heard of.


His take: does the basics very well. The navigation is simple, and it’s easy to browse, check out, buy. He says T.J. Maxx is going for a Pinterest experience — visual and one that encourages customers to casually scroll through products that catch their eye.

“If you think about the T.J. Maxx experience,” Berg said, “they are trying to translate the treasure hunt experience in the store.”

Where the site falls short is its attempt to be a flash sale site without being one, and that can confuse consumers.

Berg says the T.J. Maxx business model is more akin to Boston-based Rue La La’s selling limited quantities of designer duds, yet the site looks like a traditional Web retailer such as the shoe giant Zappos, but without all the bells and whistles: endless inventory, filtering by brands, customer reviews.

The upshot from Berg: “I don’t think they are hitting the mark.”

Most experts, Berg included, believe that T.J. Maxx is working out the kinks and expect to see a fully loaded site by the crucial holiday season. A TJX spokeswoman wouldn’t discuss traffic and spending but said the company will “expand in the right categories.”

Success for a website is whether people return again and again. I’ll continue to browse in search of a deal, but the site so far lacks the wow factor to make me a loyal customer.

Shirley Leung can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @leung.