Forget the box office — the big summer releases are happening at Amazon, especially for fashion.
After officially launching its Echo Look styling camera two weeks ago, the e-tailer signaled its growing confidence in the apparel space by letting its try-before-you-buy Prime Wardrobe box delivery service loose into the market. The testing phase is over and now any Prime member can order up select styles from the online marketplace and try them at home before purchasing.
If the model sounds familiar, that’s because numerous others have popularized similar services. Most successful among them has been Stitch Fix. But there’s a notable difference between Prime Wardrobe and Stitch Fix, particularly when it comes to styling and how looks make it into the box.
Personalized product recommendations are such an integral part of Stitch Fix’s business model that the company bristles at the coarse “subscription box” description. “Yes, there is a box,” said Lisa Bougie, Stitch Fix’s general manager of women’s business. “But it’s more than that. We don’t just stuff random garments in there. We have teams of data scientists, as well as human stylists, working behind the scenes.”
And when Stitch Fix cofounder and chief executive officer Katrina Lake was asked about any perceived threat from Amazon at Code Conference last month, she batted away the notion.
“Part of what makes Amazon amazing is this sea of choice,” she said. “It’s literally millions of things to choose from. And in a lot of ways, ours is almost the opposite. We’re sending you five things.”
That curation goes by different names — product suggestions, personalized recommendations, styling services, etc. — but it all points to the same thing: Stitch Fix wants to help dress people, and it’s using AI and human fashion experts to do it. Prime Wardrobe requires customers to pick out their own items. According to Lake, that’s harder for consumers than it sounds.
“Amazon is amazing when you want something cheapest and fastest,” Lake said. “But if what you simply want is a pair of jeans or a dress to wear to a wedding, those are really hard problems to solve when you’re sifting through millions of things which have varying degrees of relevance to you.”
That has been the primary distinction so far, and it has driven millions of users to Stitch Fix’s business. What’s less clear is how long that differentiation will hold up.
Amazon has considerable AI powers and vast stores of customer data. And the company’s staffers — across its private labels, burgeoning fashion tech products and growing armada of style experts — are constantly collaborating.
Like at Stitch Fix, Amazon’s machine-learning engineers and fashion experts work closely together. Likewise, for Amazon Fashion and the company’s product teams. “We’re very closely connected so, as they’re mapping out their plans and looking ahead, we’re doing the same with them,” Linda Ranz, director of Echo product management, told WWD during the ramp-up to the Echo Look’s release. “It’s very much shared information….Customers would anticipate that everything we’re thinking about is integrated, right? So we work really, really closely together.”
It would be naive to think that the data piped in by Echo Look, the marketplace, Amazon Fashion and any of the company’s other businesses and initiatives won’t connect back to Prime Wardrobe — at least at some point.
Amazon is masterful at connecting dots. It has a habit of experimenting with seemingly random things and then acting quickly when it hits upon success to tie those things together. That’s how it approached Fire TV and the Alexa voice assistant, branded apparel partnerships and in-house labels, its marketplace and Echo Look, and more.
When it comes Amazon pulling the trigger and leveraging its AI, data troves and services to make real apparel choices for customers, the question may not be a matter of “if,” but “when.”
While still Amazon looms for all merchants, the official launch of Prime Wardrobe was only a sideline for Stitch Fix investors Wednesday, who overheated over sketchy online speculation that Oprah might invest in the company. That briefly drove Stitch Fix’s stock up 13.9 percent before the rumor lost steam. Shares of the company ended up 3.1 percent to $27.08.