Amazon’s Renewed Fashion Focus Should Be a Warning to the Fashion Technophobes

It’s always the quiet ones. Once only a titan among booksellers, Amazon has grown to be a shopping source for, well – everything.

The Seattle online retailer announced plans to relaunch their online clothing and shoe business with a focus on the high end market.  Amazon already owns Shopbop, which carries hot, mid-range designer labels like Elizabeth and James, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Diane von Furstenberg, Alexander Wang, and KORS by Michael Kors among others. Recently acquired Zappos, which started by selling shoes online (see our picks for on trend Zappos shoes under $100), also carries clothing now – specifically, some of the same secondary designer lines.

You may remember from our infographic of where the wealthy shop online, that Zappos reaches more  shoppers in the $100,000/year household income category than sites for Neiman Marcus or Saks Fifth Avenue combined.

While it’s difficult to break out traffic to the apparel section of Amazon’s site specifically, Scot Wingo of ChannelAdvisor, a company that helps 3rd party sellers on Amazon and eBay, estimates clothing, shoe and accessory sales at to be anywhere from one-third to one-fourth of Amazon’s total $24.5 billion in sales. {Financial Times} There’s no word on if that includes sales from, the separately branded shoe and handbag store the company launched in 2007.

The move comes after eBay revamped their fashion offerings to better compete with member sale sites like Gilt and Rue La La. eBay fashion now includes sample sales, a capsule collection from Narcisco Rodriguez similar to the type of pairing that H&M and Target have made popular, and a sleek new wrapper on the site to house it all.

With a focus on the holiday season, Amazon will use the data they’ve gathered up until October to enhance the user experience from selection to close of sale. Lest anyone underestimate the significance of this, Amazon’s tracking and testing of things as small as the color of buttons, or 3 or 4 words of text on a page, are part of what’s contributed to a 12.8% conversion rate, while industry norms are around 4.9% (and 2-3% isn’t unheard of as a normal rate of people who purchase, compared to people who visit). {ClickZ}

And it’s all of those things that should shake fashion technophobes, who are still indecisive about a serious commitment to online retail. While  companies like Zara and H&M are tepid in their response to the growing necessity of online shopping, at least they’ve started. They may also be prime candidates to partner with Amazon – for years, Amazon handled Target’s online operations, so suffice it to say they know a thing or two about handling large amounts of rapidly moving inventory.

No, the people who should really be afraid are the labels which will wait so long to get into e-commerce, or respond to the trends within it that are emerging, that re-capturing the attention of shoppers who’ve stopped checking back to see if they’ve joined the 21st century will be even more costly and require more effort than if they’d bitten the bullet and just done something. While the Net-a-Porters and Gilts of the world are pushing the online shopping experience to mobile devices and beyond, they’ll still be playing catch up for pushing splash pages and clunky flash intros.

Offline retail will never die, but consumers have decided that the experience they want isn’t always in a store. To the retailers and brands still weighing their online options: when companies that have built their billions catering to that shift decide to focus on your customer, you don’t have long to decide.

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