Will Amazon Prime Wardrobe change how Americans shop for clothes?

Discussion
Source: Amazon video
Jun 21, 2017
George Anderson

Amazon is beta testing a new perk for its Prime subscription program that may spell big trouble for department stores and other clothing retailers.

Amazon Prime Wardrobe allows members to order a box with three or more pieces of clothing, shoes and accessories to try on at home. They only pay for the items they keep while returning unwanted pieces for free. Amazon claims that more than one million items for children, men and women are included in the program.

Every order shipped includes multiple items that customers get to keep for seven days without charge — think Stitch Fix or Trunk Club without the personal shopper fee. If a Prime member purchases three or four items, they receive a 10 percent discount on their purchase. If they buy five or more, the discount increases to 20 percent. Any unwanted items go back in the resealable box provided by Amazon with the supplied free shipping label. Customers place the box on their front steps, or wherever it was delivered, and Amazon collects it.

A video produced by Amazon to promote its new “try before you buy” program says it “takes advantage of the ultimate fitting room — your room.”

The beta of Prime Wardrobe follows Amazon’s launch of the Echo Look in April. The newest device that uses the Alexa voice interface comes with a camera for shoppers to take full-length photos of themselves in different clothing. They can then use the shots with the Look’s StyleCheck feature, which employs “advanced machine learning” and “tips from fashion specialists” to provide feedback.

The information collected using the Look will help in providing future purchasing suggestions, according to Amazon.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How likely is Prime Wardrobe to disrupt the U.S. retail clothing business? What do you think will be the response of companies competing with Amazon in the apparel space?

Braintrust
"Prime Wardrobe looks like a loss leader that will cost Amazon a bundle in the short run, but will take market share away from competitors later on."
"70 percent of online apparel purchases are returned due to fit issues which is a big deterrent for most consumers ... Amazon just changed that."
"This model is proven which is why Amazon is cherry picking from best practices in retail today and blending them uniquely..."

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34 Comments on "Will Amazon Prime Wardrobe change how Americans shop for clothes?"

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Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

This is a great idea and the concept has been proven by a few other online retailers, so I am surprised that it has taken Amazon this long to implement it. This will not only change shopping, but will hasten the demise of the shopping mall. Why go out when all of your friends can come in and everyone can have a clothes party at your place? In larger cities delivery can take only a few hours, which means there is no worries about planning or waiting. Another great concept brought to life by Jeff Bezos and company!

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

Credit to Scott Galloway of L2 who has been predicting that Amazon will ultimately ship two boxes each week to customers using predictive AI to estimate what they want to buy — the second box being empty for free returns. This sure sounds like a move in that direction. It also seems very inspired by a couple of startups in fashion that have done similar. The difference here is Amazon’s potential for instant scale.

Lesson to all retailers, especially those that sighed in relief about Amazon buying into grocery and not their vertical: any category anytime can expect the unexpected from Amazon. Don’t wait.

Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

Here they go again. Amazon enters a new area and thoroughly disrupts old business models. Traditional clothing retailers have much to fear from Prime Wardrobe. Consumers can shop in the privacy of their homes with no salespeople, no inventory issues and no commitment to buy. Purchasing is as easy as a click and returns require little effort. Traditional retailers need to up their game and create relevant in-store experiences or offer exclusive merchandise if they want to compete.

Dennis Brown
Guest
1 month 1 day ago

This is great for task-oriented shoppers who just want to get it done. But lots of shoppers enjoy the experience and appreciate the service, support and humanity of the retail associates who provide knowledgeable feedback and advice.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust

Jeff Bezos is becoming the Cornelius Vanderbilt of the 21st century destined to take over everything in retail. E-commerce wasn’t enough, now it’s brick-and-mortar. The idea is brilliant and no doubt will be a huge success, especially for those who don’t like shopping in stores or are too busy to shop. And it will force apparel stores to think through how they can compete with this service.

However, as much as there will be customers who will jump at the opportunity, there will still be those shoppers who prefer the experience of in-store shopping. So retailers had best become aware of this new competition and do everything they can to make the in-store experience as good as possible. Every customer who comes in their stores must be wowed by the merchandise, promotional offers and, most importantly, the service.

Marge Laney
BrainTrust

The in-store experience that retailers had best become aware of is the fitting room experience. Retailers are aware of this opportunity and for the most part have ignored it.

The truth is that the buying decision is made in the fitting room or the bedroom. The customer who tries on is more than 70 percent likely to buy. Retailers who service customers while they are in the fitting room by bringing them the sizes and options they are looking for have customers that buy three times as much as the non-serviced customer buys.

The fitting room is a huge pain point for the customer and is the area of the store that will make or break brick-and-mortar apparel retail.

Maybe now that Amazon is saying it, they’ll believe it.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

Marge — my wife loathed Macy’s 20 years ago because their fitting rooms were dirty messes. How is Macy’s doing today?

Marge Laney
BrainTrust

There are three things that need to be considered when addressing the fitness of the fitting room; design, service and technology.

The biggest improvements have been made in the design arena which includes cleanliness. Most retailers are making an effort to remove unwanted clothing from previous shoppers and keep the fitting room clean. I would include Macy’s in that group.

The hard part is fitting room service and technology that supports that process. That’s where the retailers need to understand their customers’ expectations and deliver on that day-in and day-out without fault.

This is also where the opportunity exists for them to emotionally connect with their customers as they make their buying decisions. Few have scratched the surface of these opportunities.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust

I completely agree with you, Marge. It is also important for store associates to help (when asked) to pick out clothes, help the customer mix and match outfits, etc. and be present throughout the buying process. If a store provides great service, customers also have the advantage of having a different size if needed after trying on the clothes, whereas the Amazon customer has to send back the item and wait for Amazon to send another one to try on.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

This has been done before, but at the luxury-market level. What Amazon is doing is disruptive because Amazon’s feature has a much broader appeal. Brick-and-mortar has just been stabbed again. Other retailers will have to follow suit. The trick is in determining the right value proposition so that the retailer makes money and customers are enticed to try before they buy.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Like many of these initiatives, I’m sure some people will use it. Is it a game-changer to buy more and more items and have them shipped? I’m not seeing it.

Does anyone look at the enormous waste in all of this for the environment? And if this type of shopping was rewarded by customers, why did Nordstrom write off Trunk Club as a loss this year? In a world pressed for time this runs the opposite — making customers select more, try on more and return more.

Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

The hits just keep coming from Amazon. The value proposition to customers is obvious and compelling; the potential impact on traditional apparel retailers trying to compete with this, very problematic. Existing Amazon apparel customers will not only use this service, but they will buy more as a result. Shoppers who have not purchased apparel on Amazon just might now as a result of this service.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Yikes. Prime Wardrobe looks like a loss leader that will cost Amazon a bundle in the short run, but will take market share away from competitors later on. I can only imagine the conversations being held in apparel and by department store executive suites this week.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

Amazon never ceases to test and innovate. Macy’s et al. should be lobbying for Amazon to purchase them along the lines of the recent Amazon/Whole Foods deal. If successful, this latest Amazon endeavor will be another serious blow to the brick-and-mortar only retailers. In the words of the old adage, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

Liz Crawford
BrainTrust

To me, Amazon is a me-too playing catch up with other online apparel sites such as a stitchfix.com, Dia&Co or Lakeside. These online subscription services paved the way for this model — in the sense that they accommodate a certain buyer, learn their style and size and offer the arrangement of only-pay-for-what-you-keep. Sure there may be no fee, but I don’t think the digital model “try on” feature will satisfy shoppers’ style craving. I still don’t believe in Amazon as a clothing merchant for anything beyond basics.

Marge Laney
BrainTrust

70 percent of online apparel purchases are returned due to fit issues which is a big deterrent for most consumers. It’s too much of a hassle and too expensive to return unwanted items to make purchasing apparel online worthwhile. Amazon just changed that.

The other pain point with online apparel shopping is the wait. Most people don’t want to wait days for an item, they want it now. Amazon’s focus is the last mile, isn’t it?

Advantage Amazon … again.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

If Amazon aspires to be the top seller of apparel in the U.S.(and it’s already getting close), it needs to add a “try before you buy” feature to keep driving more Prime memberships. It’s responding to the challenge of concepts like Trunk Club — but it’s also acknowledging its lack of a physical footprint. Think about it — stores like Kohl’s and Macy’s already have huge numbers of brick-and-mortar locations where you can return unwanted clothing that you bought online. This may be a rare case in which Amazon responds to a competitive weakness in its formula.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

This model is proven which is why Amazon is cherry picking from best practices in retail today and blending them uniquely to offer an exciting new curated service. Although still in beta testing, this model will succeed and brick-and-mortar retailers will continue to face challenges launching similar large-scale initiatives based on limited capital and resources, persistent overhead costs and distribution challenges with cost and efficiency. Amazon has already mastered these elements. Evolving with the changing expectations and whims of the market will be vital to survive in the future of retail.

Amazon consumers are discount driven and have come to expect easy, fast access to desired product. By offering volume discounts, return shipping, no styling fee and free access to Prime users, this test should certainly compel purchases and willingness to try the service. At a minimum, it will provide Amazon with valuable performance data to gauge traction and responsiveness to avant-garde business models, allowing them to proactively plan for future innovation. This has all the potential to be a disruptive offering.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

Will some consumers love this? Of course. Who wouldn’t love having a company throw money at giving you your every wish? Will this end up having been a smart move by Amazon? It puts incredible pressure on Amazon’s operations and on Amazon’s investors while it also adds tremendous pressure for department stores. On balance I don’t think it’s a smart move.

My question though, is, why?. Why would Amazon announce a service that makes no economic sense? So let me hazard a first guess. There has been tremendous hype about Amazon’s large business in the “clothing and accessories” market. Except the only part of that market that makes consumer sense via Amazon is accessories — not clothing.

This has the feel of a desperate move to try to jumpstart clothing sales. Now we watch and wait to see if it lasts or ends up having been a tempest in a tea pot.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Call me a curmudgeon, but I just see it as a defensive play with some (obviously) great PR thrown in. We know that return rates for apparel are above 30 percent on average. I’ve heard rumors (no, I have no real source) that Amazon’s apparel return rates are at 35 percent. So why deal with all the credit card processing fees twice? Why not just process the cards once, accept the returns and be done with it?

I don’t see this as being disruptive or long-term profitable. In the end, apparel may be the next brick-and-mortar buy Amazon makes.

Or call me a curmudgeon!

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

I have told the story many times on RetailWire about the first time my wife bought clothes from Zappos (Amazon in reality). As she showed me her purchase of 12 or 15 items, she assured me that she would not keep them all, just try them on and see which best fits and goes with what is already in her closet and send the rest back. Her last comment was, “Why would anyone have to go to a store?”

Frank Riso
BrainTrust

For years a number of consumers have been doing this with many online retailers such as Lands’ End. Once Amazon realizes the cost of shipping these items back and forth and the condition of the items and that they cannot sell them again, it will end. It is just a short-term venture to win customers before they change the procedure. Some companies will try to compete but the smart ones will just wait it out. It cannot survive due to the cost vs. the profit they hope to gain.

Di Di Chan
Guest

Just as Amazon dabbled in the grocery industry with Amazon Fresh before coming offline, I think Amazon Wardrobe is a precursor to Amazon fashion stores down the road. There’s something extra personal about fashion and food that means that the convenience of home delivery will not be able to completely eradicate the fun of going shopping.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

Pardon my stating the obvious but, aside from the added discounts for keeping multiple items, isn’t this the way consumers are buying today? The reason that returns are so out of hand? Consumers are buying multiple things and keeping only one. While it has disrupted the way people shop, it has also created many problems for retailers such as increased expenses related to shipping and returns. Neither of which are small potatoes.

And that is my 2 cents.

Celeste C. Giampetro
BrainTrust

I agree with a few commenters who see Amazon as a me-too in this space. But they’ve shown time and time again that they can copy and improve on others, so retailers beware. Will this prove the demise of brick-and-mortar? Hardly. Keep in mind that physical retail still accounts for 90 percent of revenue. E-commerce has 10 percent but yes, that number will rise. My advice to retailers would be to test with Amazon and see what’s working and what isn’t. Use those learnings to improve your own services via a separate innovation unit. As a devoted online shopper I think it’s a great idea from Amazon but I’m not a typical buyer by any means. As another commenter pointed out, this “try before you buy” was suited to the higher-end market.

Jeff Miller
BrainTrust
There are a few things to love about this from the consumer side and a few things that raise a few red flags. On the business side for Amazon, this is a great move for a land grab especially while they are still in this golden place of not having to make a profit and having endless access to cheap capital from investors who focus on growth. From the consumer side, the things to love are obvious: convenience, value, product assortment, trying things on in a relaxing environment where input from friends and family is more nature. I also really like from a branding perspective that they have new white boxes as opposed to the standard Amazon brown — makes it feel more upscale. However, there are a few red flags, mainly — too much choice. My issues with shopping are not entirely solved by this as I still often have no clue what I want and the millions of options available do not help guide me. I imagine that Amazon will get to a place where it knows me so well via Alexa that it will curate something perfect for me, but I don’t think it is there yet.… Read more »
Vahe Katros
BrainTrust

…and then one day, AMZN announces the on-demand ultra-fast fashion service…

Shopper: “Alexa, I decided I want the jacket Casey Affleck wore in Manchester by the Sea. I bookmarked it while watching.”
Alexa: “I got it, good choice, clothing seen in our movies are 20% off this month!”
Shopper: “Oh, and I’d like the following Instagram as well, in black.”
Alexa: “Anything else?”
Shopper: “How about the alarm clock from Ground Hog Day?”
Alexa: “Sure, the Panasonic RC‑6025 Flip Clock, do you want to bid on a vintage clock or should we print up a copy?”

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

And the truly amazing notion here is that every example in this innocent conversation with Alexa is not that far off from reality, is it?

Vahe Katros
BrainTrust

Ricardo, no it’s not, and in thinking about it some more I thought of the following imaginary headline:

Amazon partners with the Fashion Institute of Technology to develop on-demand CAD standards. Said Sally Student, “Finally, we can design clothing like music! When I first published my Chanel-Dior mash-up, I only wanted to pay homage to classic hits but when I learned that my styles were the leading “streamed” fashions, I was like..cool, I just paid for college.”

Amazon’s FashionCloud is also available to Prime Customers, etc etc.

Jeff Bezos was also in the news when he announced the CAD digitization of every garment made between 1900-1950, “we invite designers to mix and match without concerns for copyright violations, but if it’s sold, we take a small cut.”

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust
So many thoughts come to mind here. Amazon Wardrobe isn’t exactly innovative. We’ve seen many examples, like Trunk Club, in the past, but the key difference for me here is that there is no extra fee involved — it’s just another Prime benefit. Where previous iterations of this type of service were being offered as a premium or through luxury brands, Amazon is being more Walmart-like and bringing the concept to everyone. Another key element is that this is in “beta.” My guess is they are closely watching the return rates here and comparing with their normal Amazon Fashion return rates. I have no doubt Amazon has countless analytics on their fashion business and they have predicted the results — the beta moniker just tells us that if it underperforms, we can expect them to eliminate the service. For the consumer, it’s yet another way that Amazon is removing friction in the shopping journey. It can’t be much easier to select multiple apparel items from your mobile phone and Amazon app (just ask Alexa, right?) and then wait for them to arrive. Once your selection arrives, you pick what you want to keep and then you don’t even need to… Read more »
Janet Dorenkott
BrainTrust
29 days 20 hours ago

Stitch Fix and Le Tote have been doing this for some time. I know several women who use these types of sites. Leaving a restaurant the other night I complimented two women who had very nice outfits on. One got hers from Stitch Fix and the other from Le Tote. It sounded like Le Tote was more user-friendly because you didn’t have to buy a minimum number of peices to get a discount and you could keep it for up to three months before returning. I was actually planning to sign up for one of them this weekend. Since I’m already an Amazon Prime member, I’ll try this out first. This is definitely disruptive and retailers will definitely feel the pain if they don’t get on board in some manner.

Bryan AMARAL
Guest
The practice of an “approval sale” has been around in luxury retail for decades, particularly for customers that didn’t live in the area. Brands that focus on high-touch clienteling and deep relationship building have the ability to curate based on specific customer lifestyle, sizes and other articulated needs. These relationship are based on trust and generally result in huge conversion rates on products shipped for approval. The new box concepts are based on this same formula — expert advice from a trusted source and the convenience of product being shipped to your home. What’s different about the Amazon Prime Wardrobe concept is that the selection is self-curated, albeit with a little help from Amazon’s AI recommendation platform. With free shipping and free returns, presumably a Prime Member could approximate this service on Amazon today. Payment simplification seems to be what’s really happening here, but the marketing message of Prime Wardrobe seems far more newsworthy and disruptive. The biggest challenge for any online apparel retailer is returns. At 30-50% return rates, the costs of providing free shipping & returns erodes margin and makes it very difficult for online merchants to achieve profitability. I am not sure that Prime Wardrobe will ultimately… Read more »
Franklin Chu
BrainTrust

Amazon’s “try before you buy” program can be a real threat to other apparel companies, especially the already-ailing department stores. Customers can take their time in their private own rooms without any salesperson pressuring them to buy, which will bring comfort and ease to many shoppers.

However, offline retailers and department stores are still holding their ultimate weapon: in-store service. Traditional retailers need to catch up and improve the in-store customer experience by offering exclusive merchandise, adopting digital fitting rooms and ensuring associates provide hassle-free service. Continually trying out new market channels can offer retailers a great boost, too.

Cate Trotter
BrainTrust

It’s another smart move from Amazon that seems like a response to how people are shopping already — ordering lots of things online to try at home and then send back the ones they don’t want. The fact that it’s a free service for Prime customers and they get a discount if they keep items means that many people could shift over to using Amazon for this type of shopping — a big loss for other retailers.

Of course some of this will depend on the brands/items customers can get through Amazon. If they can’t get what they want they won’t use the service.

It’s interesting that at this point they’re not adopting the personal shopping/curation aspect of other wardrobe services like Stitch Fix or Enclothed. Either Amazon isn’t convinced of the importance of this — there is a question of how many people would prefer to pick the items they try on and how many want an expert to suggest things that will suit them (and if this is needed in the world of free returns) — or that is yet to come.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Prime Wardrobe looks like a loss leader that will cost Amazon a bundle in the short run, but will take market share away from competitors later on."
"70 percent of online apparel purchases are returned due to fit issues which is a big deterrent for most consumers ... Amazon just changed that."
"This model is proven which is why Amazon is cherry picking from best practices in retail today and blending them uniquely..."

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