After nearly a decade of strategizing, iterating — and false starts — 2020 looks to be the year Amazon steps onto the runway, and into the luxury fashion limelight.
According to industry sources, the retail giant is preparing to launch a luxury proposition in the first half, a digital shopping platform with big-name brands operating concessions similar to those in high-end specialty stores. A spokeswoman for Amazon said she couldn’t “comment on rumors or speculation.”
Sources said the platform will be available in the U.S. only, for now, with plans to roll out internationally.
It is understood Amazon has been inviting brands to join the platform, and it is working with about 12. They will be introduced one by one.
According to sources, Amazon had contacted brands owned by luxury giant LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, and was rebuffed.
The French group, which controls mega names such as Louis Vuitton and Dior, and smaller ones including Emilio Pucci and Nicholas Kirkwood, operates its own online retailer, 24 Sèvres. That site sells many LVMH-owned labels that don’t have a wide e-commerce presence.
With the new platform, the web giant is understood to be taking a different approach, giving the brands full control over the look and feel of their virtual stores, allowing them freedom to sell as much as they please, control when or if they go on sale, and — crucially — leverage Amazon’s speedy delivery and customer service platform.
Sources said a sprawling warehouse is being built in Arizona to accommodate the new platform, while a $100 million marketing campaign is in the works.
“They have been studying luxury, and exploring making a play in the field, since at least 2012. Given the way things are going with the other large sites like JD.com with Toplife, and Alibaba with Tmall, a move like this wouldn’t surprise me,” said Julie Gilhart, the fashion consultant and chief development officer at Tomorrow London Ltd.
As smaller designer and luxury brands become increasingly frustrated with earlier — and longer — sales periods and promotions at web sites such as Farfetch, Net-a-porter, Matchesfashion.com and others, Amazon’s luxury concession model, paired with its reputation for speed, efficiency and expertise in data capture, could be a game-changer for luxury retail.
Amazon knows (almost) everything about its customers: What they buy, where they live, their preferred form of payment, the ages of their children. That would be gold dust for luxury brands, which only really know about their own consumers. In addition, online and brick-and-mortar retailers are notoriously stingy with the data they capture from customers, leaving brands in the dark about what’s actually happening on the site or shop floor.
Since Amazon began exploring fashion and luxury, the landscape has shifted considerably.
Its Chinese competitors, Alibaba and JD.com, have both taken the concession routes, with their high-end sites Tmall and Toplife, respectively. Having inked a venture deal with Alibaba in 2018, Richemont recently opened a flagship for Net-a-porter on Tmall’s Luxury Pavilion.
The fashion luxury route is a well-worn one for Amazon: In early 2018, WWD reported that the e-tailer was quietly courting the top European luxury brands and retailers, testing to see who’s willing to collaborate and offering its vast store of data to target customers online.
At the time, an Amazon spokeswoman said, “While I can’t comment on rumor or speculation, what I can tell you is that we sell an incredible breadth of product — from small, burgeoning designers to well-known brands — and are constantly expanding our selection for our tens of millions of Amazon Fashion customers.”
Over the years, Jeff Bezos’ Amazon has been dogged in courting the luxe set, although its flurry of international fashion week sponsorships and a turn at the Met Ball didn’t lead to a rush of designer deals.
Since 2012, it has shifted from one approach to another looking for an opening, testing and iterating, buying companies, launching brands, mashing up trends and formats, moving ahead with some while abandoning others.
Amazon also looked to mimic the speed, regularity and hype of streetwear deliveries with The Drop, which linked influencers and added a made-to-order element, while ginning up interest and scarcity value by keeping each offer open for just 30 hours.
The web giant bought Zappos and has left it as a stand-alone site; tiptoed into private-label fashion brands, and dabbled with recommendations through the Echo Look.
Not everything Amazon has tried has been a hit: It shuttered the shoe- and accessories-focused Endless.com, axed Myhabit and killed the Style Code Live streaming service.
In Europe, in particular, it has met with resistance.
Nearly two years ago, according to sources, Amazon suggested that multibrand retailers set up online shops to sell designer and luxury goods. One source said shop names would be generic, so the retailers would not have to worry about harming their relationships with the brands.
The web giant was also said to have set up offices in Germany and hired fashion buyers before launching a test phase, which may or may not have happened.
On both sides of the Atlantic, Amazon has approached luxury more like a warrior than a lover.
The no-frills digital giant, peddler of products from baby food, to batteries to bicycles, has never spun romantic narratives, conjured mystique around the merchandise it sells, or billed anything as rare, special, or even cool — the very opposite of luxury brands’ strategies.
Even when it does sell clothing, or fashion, the approach is utilitarian, and no-nonsense.
But Bezos never says die.
Given his ambitions, Amazon seems determined to grab its share of the lucrative fashion luxury space. With brick-and-mortar department stores shuttering, and more and more brands grumbling about protracted sales periods, Amazon’s 2020 luxury plan could signal the start of a new era.
Read more from WWD:
WATCH: Scaling a Business With Ouai’s Jen Atkin