Amazon’s moving deeper into fashion — and people’s homes.
But if Prime Wardrobe — which was introduced in beta Tuesday and will let Prime members try on fashions at home and keep only what they want — is going to find a permanent place in front of consumers’ bedroom mirrors, it’s going to have to prove its worth.
Competitors and experts said the new and potentially very costly service could help Amazon pick up more share in fashion and even if it itself isn’t a step toward change in fashion, marks a significant move in the web giant’s journey to continue remaking commerce.
“Amazon is good at what they do and they are powerful, so it can be a big deal,” said one top retail official. Others suggested that the real impact of the new service on other retailers depends on what brands Amazon has access to.
As with many things that Amazon does, Prime Wardrobe seems designed to make life easier for shoppers. Shipping is free both ways and the box that’s used to send out orders can easily be used to return unwanted items and can be left at one’s front door for pick up, even when no one’s home.
“E-commerce has not taken over, convenience has,” said Simeon Siegel, a retail stock analyst at Instinet. “If a store is right next to your house, you’re probably going to go to the store as opposed to online. Here, you literally bring the store to your house.”
With department stores closing units and struggling, Siegel said large brands have to look at how they’re going to get to consumers.
Most big names have their own stores and e-commerce operations, but some have also linked with Amazon, tapping into its huge customer base. (A BloomReach survey last year found that 55 percent of consumers turn to Amazon first when they’re searching for products online.)
Among the brands that work with Amazon and will be available on Prime Wardrobe are Calvin Klein, Levi’s, Adidas, Timex, Theory, Hugo Boss, Lacoste, J Brand, Milly and Parker. Together, they offer more than a million items across women’s, men’s and kids, and shoppers get a 10 percent discount for keeping three or four items and a 20 percent discount off five or more pieces.
“It’s going to be fairly fluid,” Siegel said. “I think we’re going to watch certain brands sign on and if the majority of brands gain more than they lose, then [Amazon will] keep gaining. The proof of concept is obviously there. Now they’ll have to get suppliers comfortable that they’ll be good stewards of the brand.”
Amazon, which is increasingly squaring off with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., is also set to learn a whole lot more about retail through its planned $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods.
E-commerce generally has already eaten away at so many of the core tenants that defined brick-and-mortar retail, access to goods and the ability of stores to set prices. Now, Amazon is coming for one of retail’s last great strengths.
“For a traditional brick-and-mortar specialty apparel or department store retailer, one of the only places they had the opportunity to differentiate was at the fitting room,” said Joel Bines, co-head AlixPartners’ retail practice. “That is the one place inside a brick-and-mortar retailer where their investment in salespeople and infrastructure could actually make a difference in the sales process.”
If Prime Wardrobe leads consumers to no longer even go to fitting rooms, Bines said, “this is a huge issue for apparel retailers, much larger than the surface level impact of, ‘Oh, this is Amazon taking another shot at brick-and-mortar retailers.’ This one would be really impactful.”
And Amazon has proven itself to be ready to test and iterate and fail and press on as it seeks to connect with shoppers and live up to its mission to be “Earth’s most customer-centric company.” This spring, for instance, Amazon axed its live-streamed fashion shopping show Style Code Live after a year.
Even with that setback, Amazon’s interest in fashion seems to have only intensified.
The company has sponsored fashion weeks, tapped influencers, launched private label brands and, in April, introduced the Echo Look. The small, stand-alone camera brings Amazon’s digital assistant, the AI-powered Alexa, to the closet and helps users take full-length selfies. The gadget also includes Style Check, which uses a combination of machine learning and “fashion specialists” to recommend outfits.
Style Check does not appear to be part of the Prime Wardrobe beta but would seem to be a natural fit down the line.
Bines said: “For now, there’s still a competitive advantage in favor of good merchandising model, which is the exact opposite, it’s the anti-curation model. But I think they’re going to start migrating to curation and once they’ve done it, it will become even more difficult for retailers to differentiate. The curation element of Amazon is not fully developed, but the notion that it will not become developed I think is foolish.”
Prime Wardrobe inches into the territory that Stitch Fix has carved out for itself, offering users boxes of items that are chosen for users by both artificial intelligence and human stylists. A spokeswoman for Stitch Fix, which produced sales of $730 million last year and has become one of Silicon’s Valley’s buzziest company’s in fashion, said: “Our clients love having their very own personal stylist who does the shopping for them. That’s the business we’re in. It’s quite different.”
Although Amazon hasn’t fully taken the Stitch Fix path, it is instead tweaking payment, giving goods up front and letting users pay for what they want, and making its return policy very clear and very easy — and no doubt very expensive on the back-end.
Amit Sharma, chief executive officer of Narvar, which helps retailers craft “premium post-purchase experiences” said Amazon is “essentially acknowledging the consumer behavior that has changed.”
A consumer study by Narvar found that 40 percent of shoppers on average “bracket” their purchases, buying multiple items with the intent of returning some.
Sharma said Prime Wardrobe would help Amazon learn about its consumers very quickly and then iterate.
“We would not see an immediate bump [in apparel sales], but this is a step toward making a significant impact in apparel,” said Sharma, noting that Amazon would increasingly curate its offering.
Whether or not Prime Wardrobe takes over the fashion world, the program is a clear example of Amazon’s unrelenting style and willingness to spend and make use of its size and shipping expertise to open up new markets in new ways.
“This is a strong move for Amazon and is aligned with its ‘innovate daily’ mandate set forth by Jeff Bezos,” said David Lamer, founder of fashion tech consultancy Core Brand Advisors.
“At some point there will be a movement in fashion away from ownership toward access,” Lamer said. “Fashion is very much at a point today where music was five years ago. Subscription-type services are a game-changer because it allows people to gain access to products and ideas they otherwise would not have considered.”
Serving up fashion at home might also be giving shoppers a few extra minutes in a hectic daily grind.
“Fashion’s biggest competition is people’s time,” Lamer said. “Consumers want to spend time doing things they enjoy. Having a technology that simplifies and improves our ability to spend quality time with friends, family and colleagues is unstoppable. It’s become part of our humanistic path.”
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