Category by category, Amazon keeps rolling along — and fashion is the next peak it will soon top.
According to a report by Cowen & Co., the e-tailer is set to overtake Macy’s Inc. as the largest apparel retailer in the U.S. by 2017. The milestone will result from a combination of more consumers and growth across several verticals — including women’s apparel, accessories and shoes, and men’s and children’s wear.
Apparel and accessories already make up the majority of Amazon’s electronics and other general merchandise business — or 70 percent — and Cowen’s data predicts that apparel sales on Amazon.com will more than triple to $52 billion by 2020 from $16 billion this year. Macy’s commands 7 percent of the market share in the U.S. right now for apparel, accessories and footwear and Amazon is following close behind at 5 percent. Macy’s had annual sales of $28.1 billion last year, with 84 percent coming from apparel and accessories.
“In 2009, Amazon had 30 fulfillment centers, and they ended 2014 with around 110,” said John Blackledge, a director at Cowen. “The growth of Amazon will continue to be huge relative to players growing one and two percent or declining. They are beating up the B- and C-mall apparel companies.”
Amazon carries more than 2,500 apparel brands on its site. According to Blackledge, Amazon has 19 million apparel-related stockkeeping units, or sku’s — exponentially more than players like Wal-Mart and Target, which have 300,000 and 35,000, respectively, on each of their sites. Macy’s and Nordstrom each carry about 85,000 sku’s on their Web sites. Blackledge said sku’s for Amazon Prime members alone — which membership he estimates to be at 36 million as of May — are 1.4 million, more than four times that of Wal-Mart, which has said it now considers Amazon its main competitor.
And besides the sheer volume of units for sale on Amazon.com, the e-tailer is ramping up the presence of brands it works with on a first-party basis. Calvin Klein, Disney, Columbia, Anne Klein, Diesel, Tommy Hilfiger and Levi’s are among the site’s top 10 performing first-party brands.
If all that wasn’t sign enough how seriously Amazon takes fashion, there are its other investments in the category. They began in 2008 when the company lured Cathy Beaudoin from Gap Inc.’s Piperlime to head its fashion operations. But Amazon, which declined to comment for this story, really began to ramp up its profile in 2013, starting with an Amazon Fashion advertising campaign and the opening of a 40,000-square-foot Williamsburg studio dedicated to the category. Then there was its sponsorship of the gala at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and, only last week, Amazon Fashion’s sponsorship of the first-ever New York Fashion Week: Men’s.
But Krista Garcia, an analyst at eMarketer, thinks the projections of its fashion growth seem “slightly aggressive,” especially since there is a clear line between what’s considered fashion and what’s considered apparel. She acknowledged that apparel and accessories sales at Amazon will continue to take off in the next few years, but those sales will lean toward more utilitarian items and not designer pieces, which Amazon has been gunning for.
“They have been trying to push that, [and] it still hasn’t quite taken off,” Garcia said. “I get the sense they are backing off from fashion and luxury and targeting the mid range. This whole idea that Amazon is going to go for the high-end has never taken hold — and I think they have seen that, too.”
For her, Amazon is still for “bargain hunters.” It’s not where a customer goes first when they have a name brand in mind — although it might be where they wind up purchasing something in the end if the price is right.
“They [Macy’s and Amazon] are two different animals. They both sell clothing, but that’s where the similarities stop,” Garcia said. “They [have] delivery, the good prices and that reputation that a lot of multichannel retailers have not been able to keep up with.”
Rajiv Lal, a professor of retailing at Harvard Business School, outlined four leading trends that are fueling Amazon’s takeover momentum in the space. Instead of focusing on the product range and the growth of fashion available on site, it’s a changing consumer that’s leading the charge.
He attributed Millennials and their shopping patterns — aligned with everything Internet and mobile — as a reason for Amazon’s uptick in apparel sales.
Second, the rise of fast fashion — led by H&M, Zara and Uniqlo — has made it acceptable to purchase clothing and accessories that fall within that price range.
“If you saw a low price point online [previously] you would wonder [about the quality], but now that you see H&M and Zara — all those pricing activities legitimizes Amazon in the eye of the consumer,” Lal explained.
As for the remaining two trends, they are less related to apparel specifically and more about the niche Amazon has carved out for itself in terms of customer service online. Simply, if a customer had a positive experience with Amazon, it’s likely they’ll return to the site, and often. And if they are able to get an item with free two-day shipping (if they are a Prime member) or a nominal cost for one-day shipping, that’s compelling when a shopper has time constraints that would have otherwise led them to go to a brick-and-mortar store to buy something they planned to wear the next day.
But even with Amazon’s heft — it had revenues of more than $29 billion last year — Macy’s isn’t going to give up any market share easily. The retailer has been at the forefront of the so-called omnichannel movement. Its capital expenditures this year are expected to hit $1.2 billion, and include spending to meld its in-store and online operations. Numerous observers — even among pure-play e-tailers — now believe the winners in retail’s future will be those able to seamlessly blend such activities as buy-online-pickup-in-store; buy in-store and have it delivered quickly to one’s home; replenish by ordering online, or order online and have it shipped from a store. And Macy’s is involved in all of those.
So as far as apparel goes, it’s game in Amazon vs. Macy’s.