By Landuo Yuan
Anything you can do, Amazon.com can do better – within the span of a decade, the Seattle-based e-commerce giant has rolled out services in virtually every online sector, from instant video streaming to grocery deliveries. Now, it is coming after fashion with determination.
In April, the company launched its second private label lingerie brand, potentially adding to its 7 pre-existing private label apparel brands available in the U.S. and aiming to snatch a fair amount of market share from millennial favorites such as Aerie and Victoria’s Secret. There has been talk of an activewear brand in the works, which will surely be a huge appeal to the same target market. By the end of May, it announced the launch of a sneaker “store” holding more than 2,500 brands including Adidas, Puma, New Balance, Converse, and Vans. In the supply sector, it recently won a patent for an on-demand textile manufacturing system which suits their apparel business seamlessly. To shape and benefit its brand equity, Amazon Fashion also heavily sponsored 2 international Fashion Weeks in Japan and India. Its comprehensive plan has paid off well already – a recent study by Slice Intelligence shows that Amazon has raked in 16.6% of all online apparel spending by shoppers in the range of 18–34 years, more than doubling the market share of its closest runner-up, Nordstrom (JWN), with only 8.1%. But in the name of innovation which has fueled the tech company for 23 years, Amazon Fashion is far from slowing its footsteps.
“Our goal is to make Amazon the best place to buy fashion online,” an Amazon spokesperson stated earlier this year to the Business of Fashion. “It’s important that our customers can find exactly what they’re looking for so we’re constantly exploring and testing ways to do just that.”
With over 80 million registered Prime members, Amazon’s popularity and credibility in e-commerce is globally recognized. Its algorithm to data processing is the key to its consumer-brand relationships, not only working to match or beat prices from other online vendors, but also presenting irresistible shopping suggestions which seemingly maximize benefit for both the customer and the seller. However, while the highly-calculated shopping experience may be suitable for replenish-able household goods, can the same algorithm be applied to fashion retail, a sector which typically depends on aesthetic and emotional appeal much more than functional appeal?
Comparing Amazon Fashion’s homepage to that of a traditional e-commerce fashion site such as Nordstrom or J.Crew, one immediately senses the lack of interaction and aesthetic standard to its web design. To maintain consistently efficient user experience throughout the site, Amazon Fashion has to compromise by lowering its visual standards and directing users bluntly towards what they are looking for. Models adorned in bright, colorful, and carefully-styled outfits dominate the directories to clothing categories or trend-spotting editorials, yet the shopper’s final destination, thumbnails of products listed, pose a huge disappointment. For one, the thumbnails are only about half the size compared to other e-commerce fashion sites. This allows the shopper to browse more products at one glance, but greatly compromises immediate visual details on the pattern and fit of a product, not to mention that every product is shot and presented in a uniformly white background, compared to a grey or colorful background often preferred by more visually sensible competitors. Products are presented in a clear manner, again for efficiency, yet even the trendiest pair of tassel earrings look bland when standing alone against a paper-white background. In the sale section, a larger issue prevails – due to price match, the appeal of the deal lessens dramatically. To the contemporary shopper, “summer sandals under $50” seems infinitely less attractive than a pair of 70%-off red-soled sandals from Nordstrom Rack.
For now, Amazon Fashion is trying to make up for the lack of effort put into styling with a personal stylist for every shopper – in April, it introduced Echo Look, a version of Amazon’s Echo smart speakers. The artificially-intelligent “stylist” is able to visually assess a user’s outfit and make styling and shopping recommendations. A team is also frantically working on improving fit accuracy for apparel shopping online, applying some of the most advanced technologies including UI design, UX research, and possibly virtual reality.
Cowen & Co. reports that Amazon will become the biggest clothing retailer in the U.S. next year, surpassing Macy’s. It will soon become the most profitable, most efficient, most technologically-advanced platform to shop for fashion online – the best, perhaps, according to standards of success. But with the sudden resignation of 4-year president Catherine Lewis-Beaudoin, competitors are nervous to see what direction Amazon Fashion is headed with its heavily invested innovations, and if it will truly shake up fashion e-commerce, establishing itself as the most influential player in the industry. Until then, they are all still in line for the throne.