Amazon’s foray into fashion: catwalk, cakewalk or big mistake?

Amazon never seems to be out of the news. Inevitably a lot of recent press attention has focused on the $13.7bn acquisition of Whole Foods and the likely disruption this will bring to the grocery sector. Combined with the departure of Bali Raghavan from the division responsible for the Amazon Go ‘walk out technology’, this has provoked a lot of speculation about exactly what kind of technological innovation Amazon will be able to deploy in Whole Food Markets.

Wardrobe Signals a Step Change

However, whilst less hyped, the announcement of Amazon Prime Wardrobe was of particular interest to us. This offers the home shopper the chance to try on items before they buy and is backed by a free UPS collect-from-door returns service. In addition, Amazon is combining the initiative with a ‘the more you buy, the cheaper it gets’-style promise; shoppers receiving a 10% discount if they purchase three or more pieces and a 20% discount if they buy five or more.

This service is similar to other premium offerings such as Nordstrom’s Trunk Club in the US. It also resembles several UK propositions e.g. personal-stylist services such as The Chapar and Enclothed, which target time-poor male shoppers who will pay for advice and value a trunk full of items selected to match their profile. It’s also a smart move from a behavioural science perspective – consumers are likely to experience a real sense of loss aversion – once you have the product in your hands, it’s much harder to hand it back, especially when coupled with a compelling discount proposition!

On one level Prime Wardrobe could be seen as nothing new – just another benefit for Prime members that’s aimed at building the monthly membership base. Recent figures from Business Insider estimate this has doubled in the US over the last two years and it’s easy to see why the brand is placing its focus here. The same source estimates that Prime members spend $1,300 a year on average vs. $700 for non-members.

Echo the First Step in a Fashion Ecosystem?

Prime Wardrobe is not the first innovation in the fashion space that the brand has made this year. Before that there came the Amazon Echo Look which, for a $20 premium on the standard Echo device, allows consumers to purchase an enhanced device with a special camera that blurs out everything other than the subject.

This means the device can be used in conjunction with Style Check – a machine-based learning app that rates how well items match.

For those of you up on 90s movies, this might feel like we have been transported by AI wizardry to the closet of Clueless’s Cher Horowitz. However, it’s really just an evolution of the previous Outfit Compare service, which offered the advice of a single online stylist.

Own Label The Final Piece of the Jigsaw?

Where things become even more interesting is the extent to which the service fits with Amazon’s broader aspirations. The company is estimated to have added 350 brands to its fashion offering in the last quarter of 2016 alone and has now launched FIND in the UK – a value-focused clothing basics range of around 400 SKUs. In addition it’s announced the arrival of lingerie brand Iris & Lily.

Looking further ahead, Amazon has been granted a US patent for an automated on-demand clothing plant. Could this offer scope for Amazon to make personalised recommendations to shoppers and equip them with the kind of unique garments that drive up their ‘score’ in the style-check app?

Free from Desire?

Why is Amazon focussing on fashion and, within this, building a richer user experience? Our recent research has highlighted that whilst Amazon is often held up as the epitome of a great e-commerce experience, it still has a way to go to crack the fashion market. It now seems to be trying to rectify this situation.

Source: ABA's Brand Love survey, July 2016

Whereas multi-channel experts such as John Lewis elicit a strong emotional response from their users, Amazon struggles to achieve the same cut-through. This is clearly about more than the addition of a high street presence or heritage in the sector – pure play e-commerce specialists Boohoo and ASOS having significantly outperformed Amazon.