The implications of Amazon’s Prime Wardrobe launch

Amazon continues to encroach on fashion’s e-commerce space with today’s announcement that it’s launching Prime Wardrobe, a “try before you buy” service allowing customers to test out various personally selected items and keep those they like most.

Available only to Prime members, shoppers will be able to choose from a slew of apparel brands already on Amazon Fashion  — including Levi’s and Calvin Klein — across the women’s, men’s and kids’ categories, and will be treated to free shipping and returns, which can be left for pick-up on their doorstep. A 10 percent discount will be given to those customers who end up keeping three to four items, and a 20 percent discount to those holding on to five or more. (Customers can select and purchase up to 15 styles at a time.) 

Currently in beta, no wide-release dates for the service have been confirmed. Interested shoppers can enter their email address to be notified when the service rolls out.

“This gets them a step closer to their [future of] driverless delivery cars, where everything will be a minute away and just as easy to get as it is to return,” said Ana Andjelic, former senior vice president and global strategy director at Havas Lux Hub, which offers marketing services to top fashion and luxury brands. “It is removing a massive barrier to fashion purchases online and inching Amazon closer to becoming a fashion player.”

Of course, Amazon’s model isn’t really new; it’s following in the footsteps of other companies, including Trunk Club and Dia & Co, which have tested this model to varied degrees of success. Stitch Fix, which grew revenues to $730 million last year, is the current gold standard, relying on artificial intelligence and a stylist roster to customize all product options by shopper. The recently shuttered menswear startup, JackThreads, had less success last year with its TryOuts model, which allowed customers to order innumerable products without paying upfront.

It remains to be seen if the company’s scale of distribution and access to endless consumer data will be a differentiator, and industry experts are split over how much of an impact it will have on retail and fashion at-large.

How Amazon’s Prime Wardrobe will appear on mobile

Brian Lee, the associate director of luxury retail at L2, is doubtful it will have a significant effect on the upper tiers of the fashion industry. “Many companies have boxes at the moment, and several have failed,” he said. “This will probably have a bigger impact on the mid-to-low market than the luxury market, which hasn’t really accepted Amazon and which Amazon doesn’t seem to be targeting, either.”

If successful, however, he wouldn’t be surprised to see competitors like Walmart and Target imitate the program.

To court those customers who are fashion savvy, Amazon may have to prove more forward-thinking when it comes to its offerings, which still largely consist of basics and tame styles from trendier brands like Tibi and Calvin Klein.

“One of the reasons people like Stitch Fix is that they send you things you wouldn’t normally try on or buy,” said Seth Garske, the director of marketing science at HackerAgency. “It will be interesting to see if Amazon can leverage their data not just to send people the right items based on their personal tastes, but also as a means for staying ahead of the trends.”

They will also need to solve for the fact that — unlike services such as Trunk Club and Stitch Fix, which have fairly focused audience targets — Amazon is used by a huge and varied demographic. “Selection is going to be paramount,” said Stefan Weitz, the vice president of technology services at Radial. “They’ll need enough diversity of products to cater to the breadth of people who use Amazon today and to whom this might be appealing.”

Despite these potential roadblocks, the service may still appeal to designer shoppers looking to reduce the risk associated with buying items at higher price points, argued Phil Granof, the chief marketing officer at NewStore.

His colleague Stephan Schambach, NewStore’s CEO, took it a few steps further, noting that the service could be revolutionary, turning a once-niche model into an eventual norm. “Amazon has changed consumer expectations around fulfillment time and time again. Virtually everyone expects quick and seamless customer service, payment and delivery,” he said. “Now, consumers will expect to be able to try on anything they like in the comfort of their own home, without having to pay for it.”

Andjelic agrees: “It will put an even bigger emphasis on service as a competitive differentiator and force fashion brands to become more customer-centric,” she said. “We will start referring to the fashion landscape as before- and after-Amazon.”

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