How the fashion world almost led Amazon astray
While Amazon is a name that’s synonymous with retail dominance, it’s performance in fashion has been a relatively different story. Categories such as books, tools and technology play to Amazon’s strengths – there are key brands, which if well-sourced mean that you have the majority of head inventory; products have easily accessible structured data (eg. brand, model number, colour) to identify and draw further buying insights.
Amazon has been able to leverage their own data to move quickly and muscle out key competitors across a variety of categories and dominate. Fashion on the other hand requires a bit more imagination and pizzazz. A look at Amazon’s 12 year journey since entering the fashion game indicates there’s still plenty of opportunity for the behemoth.
A brief look at Amazon’s fashion trends
Amazon’s ‘Electronics and Other General Merchandise’ revenue in North America alone has sustained 48 per cent average year on year growth for the last 16 years – yet despite all this success, investment analysts estimate that Amazon’s customer engagement in apparel remains relatively low, with only 15 per cent of Amazon’s active buyer base also shopping fashion on Amazon.
In 2002, Amazon entered the fashion category and used acquisitions to drive their efforts – acquiring designer-wear site, Shopbop in 2006, shoe retailer Zappos in 2009 and high-end wear retailer, MyHabit in 2011 (which has now been shutdown). More recently, Amazon focused on partnerships with key brands to bolster it’s credentials in the high-end fashion world. Amazon courted partnerships with Rachel Zoe, Michael Kors, launched it’s own fashion show, Style Code Live, and sponsored the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2015.
However being ‘in’ with the fashion crowd has not been enough to appeal to Amazon’s broad audience and stock virtual shelves.
Pursuing high-end fashion on ‘the everything store’
For retail aggregators that stock all categories (eg. Amazon, Alibaba and eBay), fashion is a category that has been difficult to crack. For Amazon specifically, it has prioritised creating credibility among the fashion world through high-end fashion brand partnerships, which has not been enough to stock their shelves with items that its core customer wants to buy. Relative to other categories where Amazon’s dominance has literally put others out of business, dominance in fashion remains elusive.
This issue is further exacerbated by the fact that fashion items themselves are works of creativity – not structured data. So while an electronics buyer can know exactly what model customers are going to expect next year, there is not enough data related to fashion products to create buying predictions for what will be on trend for next year.
Next season’s trend – the launch of Amazon private label fashion
Amazon’s latest strategic move into fashion, has the potential to completely disrupt the current market and could deliver its best return yet.
With minimal fanfare, Amazon launched seven private label fashion brands from March 2016.
Prices do not extend beyond $100, and each brand has a very specific customer segment. One gets the feeling, that by finally coupling their focus on low prices with quality products (as they have done for most other categories), Amazon has delivered six brands of clothing that appeal to a broad audience. There is something for everyone.
The expansion of private label brands under the umbrella, ‘AmazonBasics’ has been happening gradually. Amazon have been testing the market with coffee (Happy Belly), organic baby food and even nappies. Now in fashion, Amazon’s private label brands focus on what they’re good at – commoditised staples such as black men’s shoes, white socks, and even that little black dress. Further by sourcing for their own labels, Amazon is able to leverage its buyer data to ensure that products are not just ‘on trend’ from an aesthetics perspective, but also from a statistical perspective.
The individual focuses of these brands also mean that Amazon stops trying to be a fashion world darling, and put it squarely up against other affordable, on-trend fashion players such as Zara, H&M and Forever 21. In that arena, the market opportunity is much bigger and can make Amazon a much more competitive contender when it comes to fashion.
Arani Satgunaseelan is a principal consultant at ADP & Co, a management consultancy specialising in strategy and analytics for the retail sector. Arani can be contacted at email@example.com.
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