Some shoppers fret as Amazon, Wal-Mart take over favorite brands

Some shoppers are fretting about big companies they don’t like taking over their favorite brands. For big companies like Amazon and Wal-Mart, the challenge is expanding the reach of a beloved niche brand without alienating its core customers.

NEW YORK — Some shoppers are fretting about big companies they don’t like taking over their favorite brands.

The latest: Amazon’s move to purchase Whole Foods has spurred worries about a decline in quality and ethical standards, or that the store will become like other supermarkets. And Wal-Mart’s purchase of clothing labels ModCloth and Bonobos has some shoppers anxious that the world’s largest retailer will cheapen the quality of the clothes, or they’re vowing not to buy the brand again because they don’t want to support Wal-Mart.

For big companies, the challenge is always expanding the reach of a beloved niche brand without alienating its core customers. Of the recent deals, that’s a bigger job for Wal-Mart, since its reputation is more about low prices than trendy fashion — and shoppers might not view the world’s largest retailer very positively.

“Bye bye Bonobos,” T.D. Arkenberg wrote on Twitter. “I’ll miss you. You were a great brand. But as Sears destroyed Lands’ End, Walmart will destroy Bonobos!”

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Arkenberg, of Arlington Heights, Illinois, has five pairs of Bonobos pants and loves the way they fit. He planned to buy more, but now says he’ll shop more at Nordstrom and small boutiques. Arkenberg believes Wal-Mart puts cost-cutting ahead of workers.

“In my mind, Wal-Mart’s participation of the brand will cheapen it,” he said in an interview.

Retail history is full of big companies taking over smaller labels, with mixed results. Cosmetic giant Estee Lauder kept the irreverent spirit of MAC Cosmetics when it bought the remaining stake of the upstart makeup brand in 1998. And when Marriott International purchased the swank Ritz-Carlton chain that same year, it found success because it took a hands-off approach, says Allen Adamson, founder of the firm BrandSimpleConsulting.

But plenty of cases didn’t turn out so well, as Arkenberg noted. Sears purchased sporty outdoor chain Lands’ End in 2002, but sales deteriorated before Sears spun it back off in 2014. Cereal giant Kellogg bought Kashi in 2000 as it sought to get into the organic food market. But sales of Kashi tumbled…

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