Amazon is about to hit the mall — question is, will the mall hit back?
Amazon is already the undisputed leader online, having driven e-commerce forward with assortment and fast delivery, while scooping up annual apparel sales of $41 billion, according to Wells Fargo estimates.
But still, it has been searching for something more in both fashion and physical retail for years.
From courting designer brands with its Amazon Luxury Stores feature to adding AI-aided style suggestions to testing a hair salon to ginning up a short-lived, QVC-style shopping show, the company’s various arms have been searching for more opportunity in apparel. In physical retail, Amazon has Whole Foods, as well as its automated Amazon Go convenience, its Five Star greatest hits concept and more, for a total footprint of 616 IRL stores.
The Amazon Style store unites the two efforts in a 30,000-square-foot box, which includes front and back of the house and will sell women’s and men’s apparel, shoes and accessories with a new, very techie and personalized concept.
“Amazon Style brings together the best of shopping on Amazon — great prices, selection and convenience — with an all-new in-store shopping experience built to inspire,” said Simoina Vasen, managing director of Amazon Style. “Customers can browse brands they know and love while also discovering new and emerging designers across hundreds of top brands throughout the store. Using the Amazon Shopping app, customers can send items to a fitting room, where they can use a touchscreen to browse more options, rate items and request more sizes or styles that are delivered directly to their room within minutes.”
That parks a potential whirlwind of change right beside H&M, J. Crew, Madewell, Nordstrom, Tory Burch, Urban Outfitters and others at The Americana.
Amazon Style could be a challenge to all of them — or ultimately none, as the tech company embraces a test and fail and iterate approach that could also see it move on to other endeavors.
But once the store opens, it will offer everyone — Amazon, competitors and customers — a chance to take in something new.
Amazon said employees in the store would help shoppers find looks while also delivering items to fitting rooms, helping with checkout and managing back-of-store operations.
But the emphasis seems to be on the power of technology to help deliver the personalized experience.
Vasen said: “Using the Amazon Shopping app, customers simply scan an item’s QR code to see sizes, colors, overall customer ratings and additional product details. With the tap of a button, shoppers can add the item to a fitting room or, if they don’t need to try it on, send it directly to the pickup counter.”
Shoppers can use their phones to have looks sent to a fitting room in the new Amazon store. That’s a lot of technology put in the hands of consumers in-store, putting Amazon Style in territory also being explored by Farfetch in luxury and Alibaba in Asia (and by the two together as they collaborate on what they call “luxury new retail” — an effort that has the pair exploring technologies that could power a new more connected in-store shopping experience, including for outside brands).
It remains to be seen just how the Amazon store will play out — which is probably the point of the new physical outpost anyway.
“We’ll probably see different iterations and variations on this,” said consultant Michelle Kluz, a partner in Kearney’s consumer practice.
“Although many have started introducing more technology in the store and trying to put less assortment up front, it’s difficult because it kind of goes against the reason people like to go shopping in person, because you like to browse, you like to have chats with associates,” Kluz said. “It will be interesting to see how the social aspect of this comes into play.
“Some of the more traditional retailers like department stores would probably be well-placed to learn from this because clearly they do a lot of testing,” Kluz said.
While Amazon’s other forays into brick-and-mortar retailing, such as the cashierless Amazon Go concept, have not provoked much of a visible reaction in the mall, the style store, if successful, could bring more change to an already rapidly evolving market.
“It’s a big deal,” said Erin Schmidt, senior analyst at Coresight Research. “This says a lot about the relevance of physical stores. People have to be where the consumer wants.”
Schmidt said Amazon — which already has a horde of consumer data — will learn even more about shoppers that could potentially inform their private label business, aid in category expansion and more.
Stores also give Amazon’s mammoth consumer business a growth avenue.
“They need to go into physical stores in order to keep expanding,” Schmidt said. “That’s the next natural place. What they’re doing is a completely different physical model than any other physical store is doing.”
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