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WILLIAMSBURG, N.Y. — How does Amazon.com feel about fashion? As with any product category the company plays in, the goal is global domination.
A new 40,000-square-foot photography facility that officially opened here Friday provides an idea of the e-commerce giant’s commitment to fashion. The entire space, which features 28 bays for styling, shooting and editing apparel, footwear and accessories, will hum with activity 24/7 when it’s fully up and running in the coming weeks, providing the online retailer with higher-quality product photos.
While the company doesn’t break out sales figures for Amazon Fashion, the overall site’s gross trading volume last year was an estimated $95 billion.
“Fashion is one of the fastest-growing businesses at Amazon,” said Cathy Beaudoin, president of Amazon Fashion. “We have over 35 million customers shopping across softlines.”
Beaudoin is responsible for Amazon’s fashion portfolio, which includes Shopbop.com for advanced contemporary styles, Eastdane.com, the men’s counterpart to Shopbop.com, and MyHabit.com, a flash sale site.
“We had been doing photography all around the country. Fashion is such an emotional purchase. You practically need to interrogate the product,” she said referring to the need for images to show detail. “We wanted to create a center for excellence.”
While the company looked for real estate in New Jersey and Manhattan, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who on Friday cut the ribbon inaugurating the new facility, steered the Seattle-based Amazon to the site near the Brooklyn waterfront.
“New York is a magnet for talent — models, photographers, digitech people, hair and makeup stylists,” Beaudoin said. “We were flying people in from New York” to Seattle.
Beaudoin said the photo studio will produce “tens of thousands of images. We’ll put more images up faster,” she added. “It’s about the quality. This is allowing us to scale and obsess over the customer experience.”
To get a sense of the scale of the operation, Beaudoin said that in addition to operating like a traditional retailer, sending buyers to showrooms and assorting based on its point of view, Amazon operates as a platform for other retailers and sellers, including about a thousand mom-and-pop shops. The site sells men’s women’s, kids, baby and juniors.
“We have a range of brands, from traditional iconic brands such as Levi’s and Pendleton to advanced contemporary,” Beaudoin said. “We have a very sophisticated customer who is affluent and educated. Prime [Amazon’s membership tier that offers multiple shipping benefits] members are so loyal and trusting. As we’ve added more brands and built [the assortment] the customer response has been excellent. Our challenge is to help the customer quickly navigate” through the vast offerings.
Beaudoin hinted that there may be a fashion partnership in Amazon’s future. “We’re open to designer collaborations,” she said. “There’s none in the pipeline at the moment. Or at least none that we’re ready to talk about.”
Amazon Fashion will be “bringing on even more brands and investigating new customer models,” Beaudoin said. One way to do that is to launch new sites or areas within Amazon Fashion that speak to the needs of various shoppers. “Plus sizes, kids, fast fashion — different customer segments you can easily imagine needing a separate shopping experience,” she said. “Don’t expect us to go really high end [within existing properties]. That demands a really unique customer experience. We’d do that in a discreet and different way. We’re thinking about every customer segment. Can we do that really well on Amazon?” Beaudoin asked.
She said that if Amazon believes it can build a unique high-end site, it will. “We’re looking at it,” she added. “Stay tuned.”
Amazon.com is also looking into incorporating more aspects of social shopping into its properties. “Shopping is so recreational,” Beaudoin said. “We want the experience to be fluid and intuitive. We’re harnessing customer reviews and what products customers have used and bought in the past. We’re building into the experience adjacent items, shoe, handbags and also what other customers are buying with the outfit. We’ll be doing more of that going forward. It’s the power of our customer insight with the strength of technology and a clear point of view with an editorial message. We also want to employ technology so the site follows you and intuitively guides you to more dresses just like the one you looked at, and it would be interactive.”
This is a way to personalize products to suit the needs of customers. “It’s going from millions of customers down to one,” she said. Consumer insight can also be used to convince brands that are reluctant to sell to Amazon.com to reconsider, Beaudoin said. “When we know that thousands of customers are asking for a brand we don’t carry,” she said, “we tell the brand and it’s a powerful vote from the customer.
“We’re seeing growth across every category,” she added. “When we can enter a category or launch a brand, we’re seeing an immediate response. There’s no price ceiling, if it’s the right product.”
Amazon knows who these customers are. A free subscription program sends alerts about sales and special events to certain shoppers. “Customers are opting in to learn anything that’s happening,” Beaudoin said. “We send more e-mails to a group of customers and they end up being our best customers. That’s why what we’re doing feels so right. They’ll buy an investment piece or two or three for the season and pick up a book or movie. That’s the way the world is going.”
While Microsoft and eBay have opened pop-up brick-and-mortar shops to showcase products during the holidays, don’t expect Amazon to unveil a physical store any time soon. “Not right now for freestanding stores,” said Beaudoin. “The holidays are our Super Bowl. Cyber Week — we take the roof off. Every single Christmas when you think it can’t get bigger, people migrate to online. More people are waking up to the Internet.”
Nor does Beaudoin need an outlet channel. “We’re optimizing a lot of brands,” Beaudoin added. “We actually move through our inventory very effectively on our Web sites. We will sometimes share inventory with MyHabit.com, whose concept is after-market styles. It really depends on the brands and products. Our buying team is constantly optimizing and learning about the customer base.”
Beaudoin, who has been with Amazon for four years and previously worked at Gap’s Piperlime.com, which she cofounded, said, “What’s so transformative about what’s happening, the whole industry’s in rapid innovation. Look for us to continue to innovate our customer experience.”
To inaugurate the photo facility, Amazon on Saturday launched Amazon Fashion Studio Sessions, a creative challenge for fashion and design students to create an image for Amazon Fashion’s fall 2013 editorial using the new studio. The Fashion Institute of Technology, Parsons The New School for Design, Pratt Institute and The School of visual Arts each sent two teams of five students — one to focus on women’s wear and the other to focus on men’s wear — to compete in the contest. A panel of industry judges including Steven Alan, fashion consultant Julie Gilhart, Derek Lam, Tracy Reese, Amazon Fashion chief creative officer Dennis Leggett and Council of Fashion Designers of America chief executive officer Steven Kolb, graded the students on creativity, wardrobe styling, layout and composition, photography, art direction, set design and editing.