When Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) acquired Jet.com earlier this year, the majority of the focus was on what Jet, the e-commerce upstart, could do for Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer. 

Mostly ignored was how Wal-Mart's vast supply chain, logistics network, and infrastructure could help Jet, and the early results show that it's made a significant difference.

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Image source: Wal-Mart. 

In its second holiday season, Jet saw sales over the Thanksgiving weekend jump 300%, and the average order value was up 19%. Jet focused on key gift categories such as electronics, toys, home goods, and apparel and benefited from Wal-Mart's supply-chain expertise, as the company was able to replenish its inventory faster and maintain higher in-stock rates.

Jet could take off

The $3.3 billion Wal-Mart paid to acquire Jet was the largest buyout price for an American e-commerce company in history. The market seemed surprised that Wal-Mart would pay so much for a company barely a year old, but Jet earned that price tag.

It was the most anticipated e-commerce start-up in years, receiving a splashy cover story in Bloomberg Businessweek months before it even made its first sale.

Founder Marc Lore is probably the most respected mind in e-commerce, after Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. Lore's first company, Quidsi, the parent of sites such as Diapers.com and Soap.com, got Amazon's attention after it saw sales in the key diapers category fleeing to Quidsi. In a resulting bidding war between Amazon and Wal-Mart, Amazon eventually won, snatching up the company for $545 million in 2010. Lore spent two years at Amazon before leaving to strike out on his own again.

Wal-Mart paid a steep premium for Jet, as it was valued at $1.35 billion in its last funding round, but the company brings a stable of executives with the ability to disrupt the industry and a unique "smart basket" algorithm that lowers prices based on decisions customers can make, such as forgoing returns or paying with a debit card. Wal-Mart has already rotated out its own e-commerce management team in favor of Jet.com's, and the company is banking on Lore's ability to convert an unmatched retail network and billions in assets into an e-commerce machine.

A match made in retail heaven?

According to Dan Wilkinson, chief commercial officer for 1WorldSync, a supply-chain partner for Wal-Mart, Jet has gained access to assets such as Wal-Mart's products, customer base, and supplier information to tap its vast vendor network, benefit from Wal-Mart's rock-bottom purchase prices, and market to millions of Wal-Mart's customers using its data. Importantly for the former start-up, Jet now has access to Wal-Mart's capital resources and no longer has to worry about its cash-burn rate or how much money start-ups can go through before they run out or turn profitable. 

Just 6% of consumers have made a purchase on Jet.com over the past year, compared with 98% who have made one on Amazon, 61% who have done so on eBay, and 26% on Etsy. In other words, there's a long potential runway of growth for Jet.com as it reaches out to more consumers.

Before Wal-Mart acquired it, Jet had already made more than $1 billion in gross merchandise volume (GMV), or the amount of sales including its marketplace, in its first year. Lore boldly predicted that his company would have $20 billion in GMV by 2020, but with Wal-Mart's backing, that number is likely to go significantly higher. 

It was always clear that gaining access to Lore and his team would be a boon for Wal-Mart's own e-commerce operations, but Jet.com is starting to look like the hidden winner in the deal. If its growth rate over Thanksgiving weekend is any indication of its future potential, the value of Jet.com on its own may pay for Wal-Mart's acquisition in just a few short years.

 

Jeremy Bowman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon.com. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.