Amazon isn’t exactly the most stylish place to shop for clothes. Most of its top-selling women’s fashion items are simple pieces: easy dresses, spandex workout gear, socks, and underwear—a lot of it from brands you’ve probably never heard of. But that doesn’t mean Amazon isn’t a powerhouse for apparel sales. As traditional department stores have declined, Amazon has become one of the most popular clothing retailers in the US, especially among millennials. The company has its own in-house clothing brands, as well as subsidiaries like Shopbop for higher-end women’s fashion and Zappos for shoes. Now, Amazon is experimenting to attract a new, more fashionable segment of consumers: social media influencers and the people who love to follow them.
Earlier this week, the company announced the Drop, a series of limited-edition fashion collections designed in collaboration with influencers. (Amazon is calling them “international trendsetters” in some of its marketing materials.) Paola Alberdi, who has 1 million followers on Instagram, designed the first collection, which included pieces like a $60 pink blazer and a $25 sleeveless white T-shirt. The items were only available for 30 hours, and Amazon claims every piece is made to order, so as to “reduce waste.” The Drop also includes an accompanying line of basics, which is always in stock.
Amazon has more resources to experiment than most clothing retailers, and it’s possible the Drop will come and go like many of its past initiatives. But it's one more sign that Amazon is intent on capturing more of the global clothing market, right as traditional brick-and-mortar retailers like Kohl’s, J.C. Penney, and Nordstrom are reporting slumping sales. In order to compete for shoppers that flock to ecommerce fashion brands like Zara, Revolve, and Asos, Amazon will need to cultivate a cooler image. It’s best known as the convenient place to buy un-sexy items like toothpaste and detergent. If it seems like shopping for something on Amazon—like, say, a coat—is anywhere remotely close to becoming a trend, it's literally a news story. To fix that problem, it’s essentially borrowing an idea first made famous by stores like Target.
For years, Target has collaborated with higher-end fashion brands to create limited-edition clothing and accessory collections for its stores. Last month, for instance, it launched a new one with Vineyard Vines. The collaborations aren’t necessarily designed to boost overall sales, says Sucharita Kodali, an ecommerce and retail analyst at the market research firm Forrester. “People who buy these products are also adding 10 other things to their cart,” she says. “It’s another reason to just come and stock up.” With the Drop, Amazon may be trying a similar approach. While you’re here buying a limited-edition blazer, why not get some dish soap too? The collections have the added benefit of raising brand awareness; the Drop was featured in high-end fashion publications like Harper’s Bazaar, which isn’t usually a place to read the latest Amazon news.
Influencers can have just as much, if not more sway with shoppers than designer brands these days, and Amazon may be hoping their involvement signals to social media users it’s where the cool kids like to shop. It already does this to some extent though the Amazon Influencer Program, where influencers share links to Amazon products in exchange for a cut of sales. The Drop is also a clever way to harness some of the ecommerce activity happening on influencers’ platforms of choice, YouTube and Instagram, the latter of which recently began allowing users to buy products without even leaving its app.
Amazon announced another new feature earlier this week that also appears targeted at Instagram. StyleSnap, on Amazon’s mobile app, lets you upload a photo of, say, an influencer posing in a cute dress and find comparable outfits for sale on the site. It’s similar to a preexisting Amazon feature that lets people search for other products using an image. You can also use StyleSnap with photos taken in real life. While an Instagram influencer might tag the pricey store where they got that dress, StyleSnap will help you find the cheap Amazon knockoff ready to ship to your door in two days.
The Drop and StyleSnap are far from the only fashion initiatives Amazon is working on. Prime Wardrobe allows consumers to try on clothes before making a purchase, similar to Stitch Fix, and was expanded to all Prime subscribers in the US last year. Amazon has also long tried to cultivate a more trendy image. It has hired away couture editors like Vogue’s Caroline Palmer, who is now the company's director of editorial and social. (Condé Nast is the parent company of both Vogue and WIRED.)
In the end, what will likely help Amazon win over fashion consumers the most is an asset even more in demand than social media clout: data. The company knows what fashion items shoppers are searching for on its site, and it can use that information to help influencers design best-selling clothes for the Drop, or ensure StyleSnap’s results are the most relevant to consumers. The more people search and shop on the site, the more data Amazon gets, and the better it will be able to serve up the clothes stylish shoppers want now—and maybe even set the trends they’ll want next.
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