Though Amazon has continued to fixate on fashion as its next frontier, luxury retailers remain reluctant to use the platform.
Through a spate of recent acquisitions, including Shopbop and Zappos, and the launch of seven private label fashions brands last winter, Amazon has made it clear that luxury remains a top aspiration for the online retailer. But according to experts, Amazon’s no-frills aesthetic is incongruous with the way high-end fashion brands want to engage with consumers, who are more likely to use the platform as a destination for toilet paper and beach reads rather than designer dresses.
“Amazon is closer to Costco than it is to Nordstrom,” said Ben Kennedy, vp of digital ventures at The Integer Group. “[The model] may work well for P&G but for the fashion brand CMO, the Amazon platform indicates a lack of direct control and brings forth a negative association of discount. This can erode brand equity and undermines the importance of maintaining brand identity online at the very highest level.”
A recent report from L2 shows that less than a third of 83 examined luxury brands distribute on Amazon, and third party organizations account for 75 percent of sales. These wholesalers are worrisome to brands who are loathe to hand over control of discounting and inventory.
The future of fashion for Amazon means more than merely launching a vertical and investing resources, but establishing a more engaging, visually pleasing platform to curate offerings for consumers. The next, and arguably more difficult, challenge is convincing them that Amazon can be a viable source for fashion needs.
Data from the L2 study showed that shoppers who do turn to Amazon for clothes are seeking out basic items like solid t-shirts and undergarments rather than seasonal items that often sell at higher price points. This is largely as a result of the structure of the site, which is not conducive to creatively highlighting new offerings, according to Nathalie Huni, creative director at Huge.
What she says Amazon lacks, mainly, is a sense of storytelling that is essential to successful e-commerce. “It just feels very dry. There should be an editorial point of view,” she said.
While e-commerce has increased the ease with which we shop, buying designer brands still remains experiential, and that permeates into the way brands present themselves online. Due to their high price points and quality, there is a certain level of customer service that Amazon can’t provide, according to Kennedy.
“When you buy a premium fashion brand, such as Louis Vuitton or Canada Goose, you expect a high end experience spanning the pre-tail, retail and post-tail components of the shopper journey,” Kennedy said. “Pre-purchase, you would look for inspirational imagery, content and information showing you what you can aspire to become.”
Additionally, third party sellers can often be misleading. Huni noted that a consumer browsing for a Chanel bag may be led to seller titled “Chanel” which is in fact a third party organization and not affiliated with the official brand. It brews concern over lack of certification and authenticity of an item.
“The first step in the conversation is that Amazon has to clean out all the confusion for its customers,” Huni said. “There is debate over whether Amazon has to protect these brands. Amazon wants to integrate them, and they have to do something on their end to protect them.”
Though Amazon launched its fashion vertical in 2012 — after first acquiring Shopbop in 2006, Zappos in 2009 and developing its own flash-sale site MyHabit in 2011 — only a small number of high end brands have opted into business with the company. Among them are Michael Kors, Kate Spade New York and Milly. The rest is largely comprised of more contemporary brands like Guess and Fossil.
In February, the online retailer launched seven private label lines “with little fanfare,” Business Insider wrote, with a total of 1,800 items available for sale. Staying true to the Amazon model, the company boasted the affordability of the items, many of which retail for under $100.
“Amazon is so entrenched in this identity as place you go to get everything and everything at a low price. The very nature of the platform is facilitated to be the everything store,” said Mabel McLean, director of commerce at L2.
Looking to the future, McLean anticipates a much-needed algorithm change to help bring life to a platform that feels particularly stale for fashion brands. She noted successful models like Net-a-Porter that may serve as an example for Amazon Fashion.
“As [Amazon] continues to work with larger fashion brands — the brands with more market share and a very in-depth knowledge of the industry that they want to attract — they’ll be willing to make concessions and alterations,” she said.