Exclusive: Target Sizing Up Digital Deals

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NEW YORK ( TheStreet) –– Minneapolis big-box retailer Target , helmed by a new CEO, will likely look to expand via web deals, according to sources.

Sources declined to identify specific targets for Target, or a timeline for M&A, but numerous industry sources noted that recent deals for e-commerce companies may foreshadow a growing tendency for retailers like it to sell more products online, likely to compete with online retailers like Amazon.com Inc., which have spent 2014 ramping up delivery initiatives.

Last year, Target quietly struck a number of deals to bring itself further into the e-commerce arena — and that's not the only reason 2013 was a big year for the big-box retailer, in terms of the Internet. One person familiar with the company's operations suggested Brian Cornell, the CEO the company appointed Thursday, will need to snare more revenue from online operations, a tricky proposition to say the least.

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Because of the massive data breach Target consumers were exposed to in 2013, the company will tread cautiously, they suggested, but also, they said, executives there realize that e-commerce must be integrated further into the company's brand.

A market laggard this year (down 5% against markets' rise) and over the last 12 months (down 15%), the company finds itself heading into the crucial 2014 school shopping season fighting off consumer fears over its digital security, which has shown up in its shares.

Sources said the company was likely to look at deals in personal care, cookware and proprietary relationships to help up-and-coming brands gain a foothold with new consumers.

Prior recent e-commerce plays for Target include its acquisitions of cooking and kitchenware businesses, Cooking.com and, separately, Chefs Catalog (the latter, formerly a portfolio company of PE firm JH Partners ), in March 2013, and later, in August 2013, Target also bought DermStore Beauty Group, an e-commerce company focusing on skin care.

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Deals like these are what leads industry observers to suggest that they will characterize future M&A for the company. They are not transformative for the business so much as they enhance offerings for consumers and push more purchasing online, without a high price tag. In each of these deals, a price was not publicized.

Target isn't the only retailer considering more plays on the digital economy as shoppers are increasingly placing orders via desktop and handset: Nordstrom has made several investments in online clothier Bonobos. Last week, Nordstrom acquired Trunk Club . The New York Times reported Trunk Club's 2014 revenue would be around $100 million, and tech blog Re/Code quoted sources saying that transaction was for $350 million — a heady gain for the VC backers, which reportedly plugged a mere $12 million into the venture.