Outside Amazon’s first in-person clothing store in California, Diemmi Le, 22, summed up her experience: “You don’t have to talk to anyone.”
For years, Amazon tried, and ultimately failed, to translate its online book business into successful physical bookstores. Dozens of stores were closed this spring. Now the online shopping giant is trying again, this time trying to reinvent the mall clothing store.
During the pandemic, Amazon overtook Walmart to become the number one clothing retailer in the US, Wells Fargo analysts concluded last year. The company bills its new store as an ambitious fusion of its online shopping algorithm with an in-person shopping experience.
The first Amazon Style store, which opened in Glendale, Calif., a Los Angeles suburb, in May, lets customers use a smartphone app to ship clothes directly to its fitting rooms, instead of carrying them, and offers clothing recommendations additions to the company’s algorithms.
Dressed in company lanyards, employees at the front of the store greet customers and offer help navigating the store’s free Wi-Fi and smartphone app and phone chargers. And there are plenty of other Amazon employees working behind the scenes, quickly delivering new outfit selections to the “magic closet” in every dressing room.
But the store is designed to make many of its employees invisible: Customers can use a touch screen in the dressing room to call up a pair of pants in a different size or a shirt in a different color, without having to see or speak to them. another human being.
“It’s something new, something you’ve never seen before. It’s an experience, more than a regular store,” said Marshall Sanders, 28.
‘High tech’, but limited
In person, Amazon Style looks a bit like what someone in the 1990s might have imagined “high-tech” shopping would look like in 2020.
The store features a mix of well-known and even high-end brands, like Levi’s, Vince and Theory, with the more obscure brands and cheap innerwear lines that Amazon customers are used to finding on the website. There are racks of $200 or $300 blouses in a “premium” section, but more racks of cheap T-shirts in modern prints and floral sack dresses.
Scan a floral summer dress by Rebecca Taylor, which was offered for the discounted price of $276.50, and under “related items,” Amazon’s shopping app might recommend a floral dress in a similar color for $41.25 .
Several customers who shopped at the Glendale store said the retail store’s selection was limited and didn’t measure up to the Amazon online marketplace shopping experience.
Dana Roo and Diana Guerrero, both 25, had come from the west side of Los Angeles and San Diego specifically to check out the new Amazon store, but were disappointed by the lack of deals they enjoy online. For them, Amazon was a place to find good “fake” high-end clothing, like fuzzy lounge sets from Ugg, Roo said. The physical store only offered original games.
The store’s clothing options are organized thematically, in sections with names like “rustic grace,” “girly strength,” “Y2k,” and, more pragmatically, “night tops under $35.” The app sends an alert when the dressing room is ready and the phone opens the dressing room door.
The dressing rooms are bright and clean, with a bright strip of light around the mirror and a welcome message by name on a touch screen. Details about the clothes selected by customers appear on the screen, as well as a list of new clothing selections, including recommendations for matching tops, shoes, and bags to “finish the look.”
Swiping through outfit options on a touchscreen is an experience straight out of Clueless, though whether Amazon’s algorithm will create Cher-inspired looks remains to be seen.
Amazon Style’s main trick is what one corporate director has called the “magic closet” in fitting rooms. He closes the empty closet door, presses a few buttons on the touch screen, and waits. A warning light will turn red, there will be some creaking in the closet, and then a sudden flash of light around the door – open it, and the requested clothes are there.
Amazon makes sure to keep out of sight the workers who fill its new magical closets: The “closet” door closes from the fitting room side when employees are working on the closet, for shoppers’ privacy, according to a report. sign in the dressing room. . The back door of the cabinet, on the employee’s side, is also locked from the inside.
Amazon touts that its fast clothing delivery is made possible by the “advanced technologies and processes used in Amazon fulfillment centers,” which have also made headlines for years for harsh working conditions and high injury rates. So far, Amazon hasn’t let the public see what’s going on in the rooms on the other side of its “magic closets.”
An Amazon press spokesperson declined a request for a behind-the-scenes tour. When asked about behind-the-scenes working conditions at Amazon Style, the company touted what it called its competitive pay and good benefits, saying store employees have the ability to try out different roles throughout the store.
the human element
When Amazon announced its new clothing store concept in January, ahead of the store’s official launch, some critics saw it as an attempt to make human sales associates obsolete.
Many large clothing stores are understaffed, and their employees went to great lengths to provide too many personal recommendations, Rachel Kraus wrote on Mashable, meaning Amazon’s algorithmic shopping might be a better option for some customers. At the same time, Kraus argued, “I’m not sure an app telling me I’d look good in this top would give me the confidence boost that’s part of the fun of shopping in person.”
In a statement, Amazon said its front-of-store employees, who provide customers with recommendations and human assistance, were essential to the Amazon Style experience and would continue to be a part of store operations even as customers became more accustomed to using the shopping app.
The Glendale store currently employs hundreds of people, many with prior experience in the apparel industry, Amazon said. Because front-of-store employees didn’t have to spend time restocking carvings on the floor, he suggested employees would have more time to interact with customers and provide recommendations.
Customers who had toured the interior of the new California store this month praised the friendly front desk employees, though many were divided on whether they liked the overall concept: some said they found it “really cool” and innovative, others said that the experience was overwhelming. , with some saying the in-store clothing selection was disappointing compared to what they could find online.
Sanders, 28, had not been a big Amazon shopper before, but said he planned to encourage his friends to try the store.
Inside his dressing room, Sanders was offered items similar to the ones he had already chosen, “two expensive things and two cheaper things,” by Amazon’s algorithm, and he ended up buying one of them, he said, not even realizing he had it. done.
She told him that the “antisocial” aspect of the store appealed to her, but that she wasn’t a big fan of the quality of Amazon’s clothing. And she saw deeper problems: The store’s “cool concept” was also “classist” and “causes a lot of disparities,” since people without smartphones wouldn’t be able to shop.