Amazon Fashion: will this be the future of fashion retailing?
One thing that Amazon does not seem to do is stop growing. In July, the online retailer giant hit another milestone when it bypassed Walmart in market value. How? By selling almost everything, but specifically by putting a big focus on developing Amazon Fashion, with the aim of becoming the world’s biggest online fashion retailer.
It’s no secret that Amazon is aiming to become a major, if not the biggest fashion retailer in the upcoming years. Of the roughly 270 million customers with active accounts, Amazon says about 40 million shop from the website’s fashion section. But 40 million is not enough. To fulfil the company’s long-term ambitions, Jeff Bezos, CEO and Founder of Amazon.com aims to reach $200 billion in sales per year, from the current $89 billion the company is generating. Amazon is trying to amplify its presence in two of the world’s largest markets: groceries and clothing.
However, unlike books, electronics and personal care — Amazon’s top-selling categories, according to a report recently carried out by Cowen and Company — the e-commerce giant has yet to crack fashion. While women’s, men’s and children’s apparel are some of the e-commerce fastest growing product categories, Amazon is simply not the first place most people think of when it comes to buying clothing.
How it all began
Over the past decade, Amazon has spent millions of dollars in order to expand its presence in fashion. In 2006, it acquired Shopbop, a US-based contemporary fashion online retailer, in 2009, it acquired shoe e-tailer Zappos for $850 million and in 2011, and it launched MyHabit, Amazon’s answer to flash sales.
The company also invested in hiring resources that would help grow Amazon Fashion, such as appointing Cathy Beaudoin as its President. Beaudoin previously worked for seven years at Gap Inc., where she led the Piperlime shoe site launch; hence she is a woman with an already extraordinary background within the online fashion industry.
Beaudoin and Jennie Perry (the Amazon CMO) also started working on promoting Amazon Fashion by sponsoring fashion industry events, beginning with the Met Ball in 2012, a move aimed at both end consumers and fashion brands. Amazon Fashion also recently sponsored New York’s first-ever men’s fashion week.
Indeed, one of Amazon’s biggest hurdles as it aims to expand its fashion presence, is to get higher-end brands to agree to sell to a company that has historically traded on low prices and emphasised utility over merchandising and customer experience. Amazon’s sponsorship of industry events is designed to position the company as a partner and a place where brands can feel comfortable selling their clothes.
In 2012 Amazon decided to take over the high-end clothing business with its usual motto: go big and spare no expense. In the last 3 years, Amazon has put great focus on signing with hundreds of premium and high-end brands, including Michael Kors, Vivienne Westwood, Jack Spade and Tracy Reese, and continues to chase for more. Bezos stated in an interview that they were placing significant amounts of investment in fashion to convince top brands that they wanted to work with them, and not against them.
What’s in it for high-end brands?
Amazon has both size on its side as well as money. The company has about $5.7 billion in cash and marketable securities, thus it can afford to do things that some competitors cannot, like hire flocks of stylists for the website models or investigate replacing the plain brown shipping box with a fancier package for clothes. Moreover, as previously stated, in addition to its own size, Amazon owns Zappos.com, Endless.com, MyHabit, and Shopbop but why is this a benefit to high end brands?
Despite this, many brands have avoided signing with Amazon, as they fear that Amazon’s site looks too commoditized, Amazon has worked hard to glam up its fashion category; hiring models, stylists and makeup artists to shoot the products, and using customer data to personalize brands and size search results. They also run their first advertisement campaign ever, in print and outdoor, to raise awareness.
In the retail clothing world, fears are growing that few will be able to compete with a stepped-up Amazon. Amazon is using the same algorithm adopted to price-match the apparel they sell with other online websites, but also with offline retailers. The aim is to make Amazon Fashion the most competitive ecommerce site possible and to offer the customer the best deals available.
Moreover, for some brands the company’s size alone makes a partnership with Amazon difficult to reject. The amount of traffic and retail dollars that are generated through their website is impressive. It would almost seem stupid for a clothing brand not to be on Amazon.
Amazon can also offer brands more attractive terms than many other stores. For instance, Amazon does not ask for “markdown money” when items do not sell, or return unsold products to a brand, according to Ron Friedman, an accountant at Marcum L.L.P. who advises brands like James Perse and American Rag. Last but not least, Amazon also has a vast database (and stored payment information) for hundreds of millions of consumers, as well as an unparalleled technology and logistics back-end. It furthermore have a powerful algorithmic recommendations engine.
Amazon’s Plan of Action
It’s evident that Amazon had to upgrade its front-end experience to optimise it for merchandising fashion. Amazon is to become the largest clothing retailer in the US by 2017, surpassing Macy’s. As its sales continues to grow, fashion will be among the categories leading the way. Amazon’s apparel sales are actually growing faster than most of its other categories, according to the Cowen’s report.
Among the reasons for its success are; Amazon’s huge brand selection, its ability to fulfil orders quicker than its competitors, and its excellent supply-chain management. Of course, clothing sales still far smaller than the sale of books and electronics, but that’s exactly why the category holds so much potential: it’s a relatively untapped market by comparison.
The figures are impressive given that electronics and general merchandise, including clothing, footwear, and accessories, account for about 80% of Amazon’s US revenue, and about 71% of revenue globally. If clothing sales were to increase to the level of Amazon’s top sellers, it would be a huge boost to the company’s bottom line.
The photo studio in New York and the one recently inaugurated in London are Amazon solutions which take full advantage of its new Amazon Fashion potential. The new photo studies are giving Amazon the chance to enhance their selection and site experience, presenting products in a way that’s really attractive to customers, recognising the importance of beauty.
As Amazon has billions of dollars to invest to grow a business, we know that we can expect something big. Amazon Fashion has secretly admitted to us that what we see now of it, is just the tip of the iceberg. They won’t tell us how they plan to conquer the online fashion world, but we are anxious to find out, especially as we have a feeling that it will not take them that long.
Inmylittlemind.com pays a visit to Amazon Fashion’s photo studios in Shoreditch, London
The facility is housed in a 46,000 sq. ft. warehouse in Geffrye Street, which used to be a former glass factory and steam train repair yard, owned by Transport of London. The space sits hidden under the railway arches of Hoxton in East London, the creative hub where fashion, photographers, models and artists come together.
Outside the studio there are flocks of models taking breaks from their photoshoots, chatting away with stylists and photographers. The entrance to the studio is very subtle, only when you step inside do you realize the enormity of the investment. This is the largest studio in its kind within Europe, aiming to produce more than half a million images a year. The objective of this new fashion studio is to illustrate how ambitious Amazon is in proclaiming itself as an online fashion retailer, thus we can only wait to see if all of these investments will be worthy.
Teams of makeup artists, hair stylists, photographers and models fill the 22 photography bays. Thousands of garments are lined up on racks, while shoes and handbags are stacked high on shelves, all ready to be photographed for Amazon’s e-commerce site. Every product has a time slot of 2 minutes to be shot, the image is then modified and sent off to be uploaded on the website. You would imagine that there is total chaos inside, but the operations are organized so well that everything runs smoothly in a speedy but still calm process. There is a big screen which monitors the time and how far the teams are through with completing their daily quota. Every single movement inside that studio is precisely planned not to waste a minute.
We were shown a massive white room, worth who knows how many millions, used to shoot exclusive campaign content. This is where Suki Waterhouse was photographed for the A/W campaign, as she was picked as the first official brand ambassador for Amazon Fashion. Amazon believes that she has the right attitude to fashion to represent the brand and attract a certain type of consumer.
We are sure of one thing, Amazon certainly has the tools to win the competitive online fashion landscape. They have the people, the resources, the money, the brands, a mega galactic photo studio which churns out hundreds of images per day and a glamourous brand ambassador; but will this be enough to win over brands scepticism of signing up to Amazon and to change consumers perception about the brand? Will this be enough to make Amazon Fashion the biggest online fashion retailer?
Bain, M. (2015). If you think Amazon is huge now, wait until it becomes Americaâ€™s biggest fashion retailer. [online] Quartz. Available at: http://qz.com/464578/if-you-think-amazon-is-huge-now-wait-until-it-becomes-americas-biggest-fashion-retailer/ [Accessed 25 Sep. 2015].
CLIFFORD, S. (2012). Amazon Leaps Into High End of the Fashion Pool. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/08/business/amazon-plans-its-next-conquest-your-closet.html?_r=0 [Accessed 25 Sep. 2015].
Prynn, J. (2015). Suki joins forces with Amazon as they open Shoreditch studio. [online] Evening Standard. Available at: http://www.standard.co.uk/fashion/news/suki-waterhouse-joins-forces-with-amazon-as-they-open-new-photography-studio-in-shoreditch-10409824.html [Accessed 25 Sep. 2015].
The Business of Fashion, (2015). Amazon Fashion, Playing the Long Game. [online] Available at: http://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/intelligence/amazon-fashion-playing-the-long-game [Accessed 25 Sep. 2015].