Everybody’s talking about Amazon these days. Of course, people talk about Amazon a lot; the local company is pretty good at giving them new developments, issues, and general scuttlebutt to chew on. But what’s different about the recent buzz is that they’re talking about Amazon and fashion.
It started, as many things do, with the New York Times. Their May 7 headline was "Amazon Leaps Into High End of the Fashion Pool."
The caption under the image of a slightly uncomfortable Jeff Bezos not quite relaxing on a rolling rack of brightly colored women’s clothing pieces read, "Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, says the company’s new effort is not about selling clothes at deep discounts but at prices that ensure ‘the designer brands are happy.’"
And really, that could’ve been enough to get us all talking. Ensuring designer brands are happy? What about ensuring that I’m happy? Seems like a ballsy statement, and yes, I’m aware that it’s very Seattle of me to read it that way.
But the piece wasn’t about customer service or the lack thereof. It was about Amazon going for fashion dollars, plain and simple. Or maybe not plain and simple but dressed-up, gilded, and dyed some right-now shade of day-glo orange.
And then what happened after that was sources like Forbes coming out with headlines such as "Amazon Now Selling High-End Fashion."
The local tech-watchers at Geekwire followed up with a piece pitting Amazon and their ‘new’ channel against Nordstrom.
But wait a minute. Amazon was already selling high-end fashion, and competing with Nordstrom and a zillion other e-tailers. While most of the news reports made mention of the company’s sub-sites like myhabit.com as well as Amazon’s existing fashion channel, the general vibe was akin to a big new department store opening on Pike Street. (If you know anyone in Seattle who works in studio hair and makeup, styling, modeling, or photography, you know they started shooting online catalog and editorial fashion three or more years ago—largely with out-of-towners, though that’s been changing, and job opportunities, if not sight lines, seem to be growing.) Were these reporters and others having a sort of new age emperor’s-new-clothes moment—or just a slow fashion news day?
I spoke with a representative at the company—it took a while to connect; the style and PR crew was at the Met Gala and related good times in New York.
(Side note: Another reason a bunch of fashion hullabaloo has been stirred up recently: Amazon was a big sponsor of the Met stuff. Of that partnership, the Amazon rep I spoke with told me, "Amazon was talking with Vogue about online fashion in general and the idea of sponsoring the exhibition developed out of that conversation." Side speculation: What was it like when Bezos sat down with Wintour??)
Of course, no one over in South Lake Union was going to give me anything like yeah, we don’t know why they just now noticed that we sell Robert Rodriguez… (they do offer a lot of Robert Rodriguez). The official position from the company’s reps is "Amazon has been in the fashion business since 2003 and we are continuing to add new fashion experiences—we’ve acquired and built new websites like MyHabit and ShopBop. And we’ve added hundreds of brands and new features and technologies that make shopping even easier and more enjoyable."
A little more from Amazon HQ: "The marriage of content and technology is transforming the way people consume information about fashion—and how they shop for fashion. They want their size and their color preference to be in stock; they want it delivered directly to their doorstep; and they want the freedom and comfort to try their items on in their own homes, with other pieces in their closets."
(Another side note: the morning after the New York Times thing, I got a press release about a study from The Luxury Institute which lead with, "Wealthy U.S. shoppers earning at least $150,000 a year rank Nordstrom highest among luxury retailers." Maybe Geekwire reporter John Cook was on to something there with his crosstown rivalry angle.)
Bottom line: It may have felt like news, especially in light of all the Met Gala stuff, but there’s nothing really newsy going on in the company’s fashion offices.
Still, it gives us this opportunity to look at the local e-tailer in a new way, and consider how and if they’re changing how fashion looks, feels, and affects the Northwest.
Does Bezos’s emphasis on pleasing the brand, not necessarily the shopper, feel a little hard to pull on? Could, on the other hand, there be positive ramifications—let’s call them designer in-stores, trunk shows, fashion shows—of designers having a reason to come to town and take a meeting with a Seattle mega-retailer? Are you not even concerned about all that, given ShopBop’s and Habit’s big-time discounts? And those in-stock, immediately deliverable options?
Do you care where you get the piece you want if you get the piece you want? How is the huge glut of online shopping shaking out in your world—and your wallet? Are you loyal to any one experience or brand? Do you consider shopping at Nordstrom or Amazon a "local" experience? Have you noticed that your favorite real-world boutiques are reacting to your click-to-buy habits?