Just a day after Amazon announced a slate of new voice-activated Echo products, menswear brand Perry Ellis is debuting an on-demand styling service using Alexa technology — a first in the fashion industry.
Though Alexa has been available for nearly three years through Amazon Echo, fashion brands have been particularly sluggish to take advantage of the service. Even after the April launch of the Echo Look — a device with a built-in camera for full-length photos and videos, designed to compliment Amazon’s Style Check program, which pairs machine learning with advice from fashion specialists to make suggestions — brands have remained at arm’s length. Now Perry Ellis is experimenting with the technology with a service activated by enabling the “Ask Perry Ellis” skill on any Amazon Echo. The service allows users to make style inquiries and helps drive purchases.
Consumers can request a recommendation for an outfit to wear for a specific occasion, before being prompted to provide additional information like location, dress code and weather, which Alexa uses to pull an appropriate Perry Ellis look. The device will then describe the items and direct users to the Alexa app to see a rendered image of the look along with information to buy the products.
Perry Ellis president Melissa Worth said the inspiration to foray into voice technology came from consumer research that found its target consumers — namely millennial men — were struggling with how to dress for everything, from dates to vacation to jury duty. According to company research that analyzed the habits of more than 1,000 men across the U.S., 76 percent of men expressed interest in using a technology that would help them find outfits for specific occasions.
Worth said an overarching theme in the findings was that shoppers are still trying to adjust to an evolving office culture that increasingly shies away from business formal in favor of more casual looks. The Perry Ellis team saw this void in style insight as an opportunity to both jump on an emerging technology like Alexa and use it to ultimately profit, she said.
“It was pretty clear there’s a need and a white space out there to fuse voice technology and fashion together,” she said. “I think we’ve moved away from the type of America where men used to just wear a suit everyday, and that was really easy. Now guys don’t have to, but still want to look put together and stylish, but they’re really confused as to how to do that.”
Worth said a main objective of the Alexa partnership will be to glean additional data from shoppers by learning from their questions. For example, an influx of questions regarding pocket squares can help inform how the company designs and selects inventory moving forward. “The great thing about it is we’re going to be able to have our ear to the end consumer to listen to what he wants and figure out how we’ll grow,” Worth said.
The technology took about five weeks to develop, a particularly fast turnaround given Amazon recommends 12 weeks, according to Michael Allison, a developer with Midnight Commercial who helped program the Perry Ellis activation. Allison said he foresees fashion brands increasingly clamoring to the technology.
“The retail space is an up-and-coming area, and it’s really exciting,” Allison said. “This is the first fashion brand we’ve seen being so forward-thinking [in voice technology]. We’re seeing the voice system to be a more seamless interface that we’re getting more used to. It’s still very early on, and it’s not without it’s challenges, but as we see more uses of this type of interface, then it will be more seamless.”
Michael Maccari, creative director at Perry Ellis, said teaming with Alexa ultimately allows the brand to tap a captive audience of men who are already glued to their phone, and likely have an Echo product in their home.
“We wanted to do something to get the clothes out there and show them in a different way,” he said. “We talked about various pop-up shops and things like that, but we were presented with the idea of working with Alexa. It was something we’ve never done before, and we were up for the challenge.”