This summer, Amazon launched their new fashion platform, Prime Wardrobe. What’s most enticing about Prime Wardrobe is not 2-day shipping or free returns. Been there, done that. Instead, it’s Amazon’s fresh take on the online shopping experience as a whole. While businesses like Zappos built a competitive advantage by making returns easy and hassle-free, Amazon has taken it a step forward by baking returns into the buying process.
Rather than pay upfront for clothes, Prime Wardrobe customers only pay for what they keep after seven days. Everything they order comes in a resealable box with a prepaid returns label. In traditional online shopping, returns are treated by companies as a necessary evil and customers rate them on the convenience of the returns process. Amazon approaches returns as an essential part of the online shopping experience.
While 2017 has been remarkable for the number of physical retailers that have closed up shop for not adapting to the online marketplace, it’s also been a flagship year for Amazon. Just one month after the Prime Wardrobe announcement, Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, briefly became the wealthiest man in the world when Amazon stocks rallied.
Prime Wardrobe isn’t an entirely new idea. The concept of the wardrobe subscription service has been executed successfully by companies such as Stitch Fix and Nordstrom’s Trunk Club. However, Amazon is able to offer over a million styles from a wide range of brands, including Amazon’s own private label, and isn’t limited to any one market, like wealthy, professional women.
Amazon has the market power to not just democratize the concept, but also remove the subscription element that Stitch Fix and Trunk Club need to run a profitable business. And they’re offering 20% off to shoppers who hold on to five or more pieces of clothes.
The question isn’t if shoppers will catch on – the value proposition really is just too good for them not to – but how can emerging fashion brands prepare for the shift in habits and expectations?
Depending on your take on Amazon as a fashionable business partner the answer may differ. Companies that are less concerned about controlling their brand messaging could attempt to leverage Amazon as a distribution platform to increase their reach and grow faster. Much like Spotify, Prime Wardrobe has the potential to give indie designers a boost in exposure – and Amazon can streamline fulfillment and returns.
The strategy of many other brands will deliberately exclude Amazon and any other major retail partners. Companies like Bonobos, Mizzen & Main, Crane & Lion, and MeUndies, known as “digitally native vertical brands” for their top-down control over message and distribution, won’t want anything to do with Wardrobe Prime – and they’ve had wild success. These brands have a unique advantage over Amazon because they can create a completely personalized experience that’s difficult for large retailers to achieve.
Regardless of their size, Amazon won’t conquer the entire market. Americans’ desire for individuality won’t allow a complete Amazon fashion take over – the industry just doesn’t work that way. Consumers will continue to discover and show loyalty to new fashion brands that they relate to on an intensely personal level, like Bonobos and others. The brand that will win is always the brand that tells a story compelling enough to win hearts, minds – and wallets.
That said, as shopping continues to move online and Amazon cuts itself a bigger slice of the retail pie, any and all designers should take a fresh look at how they sell to customers and explore different shopping and fulfillment models. While subscription boxes, pre-paid return labels, and bulk discounts may be more than most budding designers can afford, it will increasingly pay to look outside the box and start experimenting. The Prime Wardrobe box can be a good start.