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Amazon struggles to sell high fashion

By Don-Alvin Adegeest


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Paris - Paris Fashion Week just ended. Between shows and showroom visits the topic of Amazon is suddenly a topic of conversation. We are discussing fast fashion, couture and e-commerce, and unanimous amongst our group of fashion cognoscenti (and well-seasoned shoppers) is that nobody in our immediate fashion circle has ever bought clothes from Amazon.

Earlier this month L2, a research company that studies brands' digital performance, released a report called Amazon Intelligence: Fashion. It stated that the online behemoth will surpass American retailer Macy’s as the world’s largest seller of apparel by the end of this year. That is quite a coup, even for Amazon, which is better known for selling everything from books to gadgets, but not high fashion.

Amazon sells private label clothes

But the findings are not surprising as Amazon has made many advancements in launching itself as a fashion destination. It has cleverly created a hub of private labels of self-produced clothing brands, cutting out wholesalers and opting for a direct to consumer approach. Probably because this is where profit margins are to be had.

But Amazon trades almost entirely in the fast fashion category retail space. Designer brands, specifically luxury, have largely shunned Amazon, citing lack of user experience and an unappealing website for fashion as reasons.

Bent on forging its own path, Amazon recently launched Prime Wardrobe, a service allowing shoppers to try on clothes at home prior to making the purchase agreement. So what exactly are shoppers buying from Amazon when its comes to fashion?

The answer is basic, affordable fashion and commodity products. This includes multi-packs, like men’s underwear, socks and ladies hosiery. What it clearly isn’t selling is designer fashion, luxury, high end denim or even the latest athleisurewear.

Amazon sells clothes, not fashion

As Bloomberg noted, Amazon good at selling clothes, but not at selling fashion. “That distinction is part of a broader problem Amazon must solve in its quest to dominate more retailing categories.”

“Currently, the Amazon user experience is great for replenishment or task-oriented purchases. When you run out of laundry detergent, Amazon makes it easy to find and buy the same brand you always purchase. When you want to buy the novel your book club is reading, Amazon also makes that simple. But Amazon is not so great for shoppers who are in discovery mode. When you're looking for a dress to wear to a wedding, you're not necessarily looking for a specific neckline, length, color or brand, you're just browsing for something that catches your eye. When you're redecorating your bedroom, you know you want a new duvet, but don't have some specific pattern in mind.”

This is reflected in L2’s findings were all the products on Amazon’s top 100 list cost less than 20 dollars. Its bestselling private label fashion brand is Amazon Essentials, which sells mostly polo shirts and socks. Ranges such as its Essentials label may prove to be stiff competition for brands such as Hanes and Levi’s, which also operate in the same retail space.

According to L2 contemporary brands that do not officially distribute on Amazon have fallen victim to gray market distribution. For example, there are more than 2,300 third-party listings for Tory Burch products, for which discounts as low as 71 percent of the recommended retail price.

According to Bloomberg, Amazon will need to create an online experience that is about discovering fashion, not to mention to make it easier to sift through its vast offer of clothes.

There is so much stuff on Amazon, to navigate its enormous offer is more of a chore than a delight. Until it learns to delight fashion customers, Amazon better stick to selling the basics.

Photo credit: Amazon Essentials, L2 report Amazon Intelligence: Fashion, article sources; “Amazon is too Basic for its Fashion Ambitions;” L2 report Amazon Intelligence: Fashion