Fashion is the second-largest category in online retail, and so Amazon — now a trillion-dollar e-commerce behemoth — is making sure that it will have key role to play in it. In the latest development, the company announced that it has collaborated with J.Crew on a snazzy new storefront to sell items from J.Crew Mercantile, the label’s discount line.
“Discount” is a relative term here: Amazon says all items will cost “under $300”. The new shop will kick off with a selection from its Fall 2018 collection that will include “reimagined classics, everyday necessities and statement pieces at friendly prices,” plus denim and outerwear, and free two-day shipping for Prime members.
Although your local mall or shopping precinct may already have a J.Crew store or two, the company has its roots in selling clothes to people remotely, by way of a catalog-based business that targeted waspy upper middle class types well before the days of online retail.
J.Crew has made a name for itself for being one of the bigger and more successful vertically-integrated brands — designing and selling only its own lines — so it’s notable that it is now taking the plunge to associate itself with an upstart that has no roots in fashion, but has most definitely been doubling down on its fashion ambitions and is on track to becoming the nation’s biggest apparel retailer. From a market share of five percent in 2015, Amazon is projected to have 14 percent of the fashion market by 2020 (and I wonder if that figure is too conservative).
“J.Crew’s mission to engage our customers wherever they want to shop makes Amazon the right partner for J.Crew Mercantile,” said Aaron Rose, J.Crew Chief of Emerging Business, in a statement. “Their broad-reaching shopping destination supported by our shared interest in service and convenience will introduce the initial collection of colorful everyday basics and fashion to a new audience. We look forward to working together to expand the Mercantile Shop on Amazon and help our customers build their wardrobes.”
Amazon already works directly with various third-party brands — notably, in 2016 Nike made a u-turn and started selling items directly to Amazon for resale after years of resisting and favoring its own direct-to-consumer and more traditional retail channel approaches, and last year Amazon Fashion worked with Calvin Klein on holiday period pop-ups.
The J.Crew effort is different in that the two have partnered to create a full-fledged storefront with dynamic imagery to improve the experience. Notably, it looks nothing like standard Amazon, it’s here to stay, and doesn’t appear to have a direct corresponding site on J.Crew itself (a description of the stores is on the company’s discount Factory site). And as another point of comparison, if you go to amazon.com/nike it simply produces your average Amazon results list.
“From seasonal trends to everyday essentials across known and emerging brands, we are delighted to offer our customers selection for all their wearing occasions,” said Michelle Rothman, Vice President of Amazon Fashion, in a statement. “We are thrilled to partner with J.Crew, an iconic brand our customers love, to offer Mercantile and thereby make it even easier to access great styles and premium selection. We are focused on continually enhancing our assortment and innovating the shopping experience to enable fashion discovery and inspiration on Amazon, and we are excited about the opportunities we see ahead for customers and brands alike.”
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What is also interesting is how this complements what Amazon has been doing under its own steam. For years now, the company has been quietly courting and making acquisition offers to a number of other brands like Le Tote, Rent The Runway, ThirdLove and PreeLine, businesses built in the J.Crew mould — vertically integrated and selling only their own lines to a fairly specific demographic of users through the channels that they prefer best.
While it seems that those efforts have yet to materialise (sorry) into any deals, Amazon has also been making a massive push into reseller deals, and also building its own range of private-label brands like Lark & Ro, Buttoned Down, Core10 and Goodthreads.
And it has also been leveraging its deep technical experience, and logistics prowess, to change the experience of how one buys clothes online. Last year, the company acquired UK’s Body Labs to ramp up its technology for how it can provide a better fit to shoppers remotely, and for those who still can’t quite get a hole in one, it’s sweetening the deal for taking Prime membership by offering subscribers a free “try before you buy” option to make it easier to send back what you don’t like without paying a penny in advance.
A lot of brands and businesses — not just in fashion — see Amazon as the elephant in the room. With its unparalleled reach, it has the potential to wipe out all competition, or make it hard for you to continue to do business with the best possible margins.
When you think about what Amazon is building beyond its own direct business lines, however, you might see how ultimately its moves in technology and logistics might be what helps to win over intransigent brands.
In the race to grab consumers before the abandon their carts, or even more fundamentally, to give them the confidence of shopping with you in the first place, it’s developments like these that might feel too challenging for brands to tackle on their own. Amazon (and in this case J.Crew) are taking their first steps in discounted and “good deal” items — which are at the heart of Amazon’s apparel pitch to users — but you can see how this could easily progress and eventually take in more luxury brands over time.
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