Amazon Style: Shopping at Amazon’s first physical fashion store: Cool tech, long waits | Economy and business
“It’s the future,” said one salesperson, proudly explaining how Amazon’s first physical clothing store works. The store recently opened in Glendale, a suburb of Los Angeles, California. Amazon Style is another type of store with a shopping experience to wow shoppers. An algorithm that chooses the clothes for the customer and magic closets with secret doors in the fitting rooms make the store unique.
Spanish group Inditex pioneered the integration of physical and virtual stores, and in some ways the Amazon Style store is reminiscent of the recently opened Zara store in Madrid’s Plaza de España. In other respects, however, Amazon Style goes further, integrating some of Amazon’s logistics potential with algorithms and the experience of a physical store. Will it work? It’s not at all clear that the Amazon Style store is the future, but that’s how the store operates now.
Welcome to Glendale
The Amazon Style store is located in the Americana at Brand mall in Glendale. Tycoon Rick Caruso, a multi-millionaire real estate developer and this year’s California political star (he is favorite to win the Los Angeles mayoral election in November), has built one of the world’s most profitable shopping malls here.
Americana at Brand is inspired by Boston’s historic Newbury Street. Taking advantage of the mild Californian climate, it is an open-air shopping center, which Caruso also used to develop housing. The Americana has streetlights with piped music, a plaza with pristine lawns, gilded statues, and monumental water fountains with light effects. The mall is a kind of perfect little world. Commercial and residential spaces are 99% occupied. Apple, Tesla and Tiffany are among the tenants. The Amazon store takes up a huge space at one end, next to an H&M store. There is a Zara store in the nearby Glendale Galleria mall.
2. A store selling many brands
Upon entering the store, customers are greeted by a huge QR code and smiling, friendly employees ready to welcome them: “Is this your first time here? ask the clerks. A salesperson then offers to guide the customer.
Customers must first scan the QR code, which opens the Amazon app. As you will see, the app is essential for shopping at Amazon Style. The store has two floors, but the clothes are all on the first floor. Women’s clothing is located near the entrance, while men’s clothing is towards the back; the space is divided between the two. There are also some beauty products, perfumes and other accessories near the two cash registers.
The store sells several brands. Unlike fashion leaders like Inditex, H&M or GAP, who only stock their own brands, at Amazon Style you can find clothes from Levi’s, Adidas, Champion, Calvin Klein, Kendall & Kylie (the Jenner sisters’ brand) , Lacoste, Lee, Nautica… Of course, part of the space is dedicated to house brands, mainly Amazon Essentials and The Drop.
Some of the clothes on display are inspired by the style of social media celebrities. A sign has a photo of an influencer with an outfit that mimics the style of the celebrity’s clothes – some more successfully than others – next to it. In general, each model has only a few sizes and colors displayed but others are available.
Last Tuesday, during off-peak hours (mid-morning), the store had only a few customers but many vendors.
3. I like it, I don’t like it
Each garment also has its own QR code. With the Amazon app open, when customers see something they like, they can tap their phone and quickly scan the code. The app displays available colors and sizes. After choosing the one they prefer, customers can press the button to try on the garment, which triggers a logistical process to book a fitting room and deliver the garments there. It is a process that takes time. On Tuesday, with the store half empty and the fitting rooms free, it took 15 minutes after selecting the first item and between five and 10 minutes after asking for the last item. It’s unclear if the store is unable to speed up the process any further or if it gives the customer more time to continue shopping.
Meanwhile, the app offers customers the option to say which clothes they are interested in. After collecting height, weight, and height data, the program asks customers if they want casual, smart, or sporty clothes. After further questions, the app displays a garment or pattern on the customer’s mobile phone to refine their suggestions: “Would you wear this?” The customer answers yes or no. “And that?” The app displays images, like Tinder for clothes, until the algorithm has an idea of what the customer might want. The program learns by trial and error and, after a crazy start, gets a bit more precise by the end.
In addition to individual garments, the customer can also select a complete outfit from those on display. When the customer scans the code, everything – pants, shirt, jacket, sneakers and hat, each in the size listed in the survey – is selected at once.
Shortly after choosing their first items, customers receive a message on their mobile phone: “We have a dressing room for you. Shoppers also receive an announcement: “Your first items (and a few more we think you’ll like) are ready for delivery.” One can either ask for the dressing room to be prepared right away, or wait a little longer to continue shopping. If customers wish to proceed to try on clothes, they receive another notification a few minutes later: “Fitting Room 23 is ready for you” along with a button that acts as a key to open the fitting room . If shoppers don’t need to try on the clothes, they can request that the items be brought directly to checkout.
4. Magical fitting rooms
Without a doubt, the dressing rooms are the most unique aspect of the store, not so much because of how you book them, but because of what happens when you get there. The store has 40 fitting rooms, more than half of which are on the second floor, an area with no merchandise. When customers arrive in the fitting room, they are greeted by a large touch screen with their name on it. The items they requested are on a hanger and shelves. Additionally, there are other clothes that Amazon’s algorithm thinks the customer might like, based on the clothes they selected and the items they said they would wear in response to questions about his style. Some of the clothes are straight out of the style survey, while other items are of the same ilk.
When the customer clicks on the screen, the requested and suggested clothes brought to the fitting room appear on the device along with other suggestions. The additional items that appear in the fitting room and on-screen recommendations are the equivalent of Amazon’s “generally bought together” and “you may also be interested in” features of online shopping. If the customer clicks on an item on the screen, new offers appear with messages such as “more similar items” or “complete your look”.
What if a customer tries on a shirt and it’s too big, or likes one of the suggestions? Buyers can simply order a smaller size or request the additional item easily and intuitively on the screen. Once the request has been made, the screen displays a message: “[The item is] on its way.” This is where the closet with a secret door comes in. When customers enter the dressing room, they see a seemingly empty, empty closet that actually has a back door. The closet being closed, a red light comes on, blocking the door, and then, as a special effect, a white light comes on inside. As if by magic, when the door opens, the items the customer has requested from screen appear in the closet.Behind the door, a warehouse, logistics and delivery system makes it all possible in just three minutes.
Once customers have decided what they want to buy, they can take it, leaving the items they don’t want in the dressing room for someone to pick up.
5. With the palm of the hand
A glazed area of the store reveals a logistics area and the elevators behind that allow the system to operate. As automated as the algorithm and the warehouse are, it feels like quite a few people are scrambling to get things to the right dressing room fairly quickly.
The customer must present himself at the cash desk to pay. Customers can do this with the palm of their hand if they have activated Amazon One, which the company has introduced in its Whole Foods, Amazon Go and Amazon Fresh grocery stores. Otherwise, customers can use any other payment method, but they cannot pay through the app. Near the entrance, in addition to the cash registers, there is a withdrawal area for online purchases; the system is also not automated here.
6. An experiment
“It’s great,” said a young woman on Tuesday as she left the store after shopping for clothes. “I haven’t found anything that I like,” lamented another woman. “This system is probably not for me,” said one lady. The store is quirky and different, but it feels more like a test lab than a business model.
Shopping at the store is a fun experience to try, but it doesn’t feel very functional. The suggestion algorithm can work and serves as a temptation for unplanned purchases. However, a lot of retail space is wasted by a warehouse and logistics system that takes up so much space. Additionally, waiting times delay the shopping process even when the store is empty. A large influx of shoppers would tax the entire store system and require a lot of staff.
Despite some of its progress, in many ways the store lags behind Zara and other Inditex stores, which adopted the strategy of integrating physical and digital stores under former CEO Pablo Isla and still maintain this approach. For example, in the most modern Zara stores, the Pay&Go system allows the customer to scan the product, pay for it with the app, remove the alarm and take it home without going through the checkout. This can also be done at Amazon Go stores but is currently not possible at Amazon Style. Zara’s app also helps locate clothes in the store and automatically retrieve online orders. The stores have the same lines of virtual fitting rooms, but at Zara you wear the clothes yourself. Finally, we must not forget that we are talking about fashion here. Inditex manufactures thousands of designs and the results prove that people love their products. The product is equally or more important than the shopping experience.
Regarding in-store returns for online purchases, Amazon Style allows them but there is only one store. Will there be more? It depends on the results of the Glendale store and how much Amazon wants to expand its experience. Amazon is an e-commerce and cloud computing giant. He has billions of dollars and is willing to lose money for years if he believes a business model has a future. Is Amazon Style the way forward?