Big Lots plans online sales by next year

Big Lots (NYSE:BIG) plans to launch an e-commerce website by 2016.

This is a major step in the final year of the company's three-year turnaround strategy, the Columbus Dispatch reported.

The plans were announced in a conference call with stock analysts for the fourth-quarter earnings report by CEO and President David Campisi. The company will build its site and capabilities in 2015 with an eye to testing online sales by January, followed by a full launch in the first quarter of 2016, Campisi said, as reported by Columbus Business First. The company expects to spend between $30 and $35 million on e-commerce development.

"We have discussed the need for this (sales) channel almost since the day I walked in the building," Campisi said. He joined the company in spring 2013, the Columbus Dispatch said. Up to now, Big Lots has used its website only for promoting merchandise and not for sales, although it has tested online sales in the past.

"We're definitely still in the early stages, but we have done a lot of work," he said. "We'll crawl before we run."

Campisi said customers have been asking for online sales and the company website draws between 2 million and 3 million visitors a week, Columbus Business First said.

"We get one chance to get this right," he said.

The online assortment will resemble the stores with furniture, seasonal goods and home items like towels, sheets, and appliances. The Columbus distribution center would handle fulfillment, reported the business journal. The company does not plan to sell food from its website.

Furniture will be the biggest emphasis online. That segment is about a $1 billion business for the company, or approximately 20 percent of its $5.17 billion total sales. Big Lots believes it's an area where it has an edge on competitors. Discounters, like Dollar Tree and Dollar General, aren't in that space and major general merchandise players like Walmart and Target sell smaller furniture items. Big Lots offers a full assortment including couches and mattresses.

With a more consistent and predictable mix of products since the company last tested online sales in 2009, Big Lots is better positioned to handle e-commerce from a merchandise perspective, Columbus Business First said.

The e-commerce site won't offer everything that is in the stores, the Columbus Dispatch reported. "We really will try to hit the basics in e-commerce," said CFO Tim Johnson. "Our focus is on getting the site up and running in a customer-friendly way."

For more:
See this Columbus Dispatch article
See this Columbus Business First article

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