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Amazon’s Growing Fashion Business – What Apparel Brands Need to Know

8 August 2018

By Ethan Morgan

Ethan is in the marketing team at Volo, and specialises in writing about retail trends and news for our blog, white papers and reports.

Amazon Fashion Brands

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Amazon’s moves to increase its share of the apparel market have received serious attention in the last six months, and rightly so. According to research by Coresight Research, Amazon is the second most-shopped apparel retailer in America, driven by the loyalty and frequent custom of Prime members.

  • Some 45.9% of all survey respondents said that they had shopped for apparel on Amazon in the past 12 months.

  • Some 48.0% said that they expect to buy apparel on Amazon in the coming 12 months.

  • Nearly two-thirds of Prime members surveyed said that they had bought clothing or footwear on Amazon in the past 12 months. 

Going deeper

Strategically, some analysts have pointed to Amazon’s emphasis on its Basics range across many categories as evidence of their primary focus. In apparel, that has lead to an assumption that most shoppers are looking for basic items like socks and plain tees – however the research busts this myth as the most shopped subcategory is footwear, with casual clothing coming in around 10% more popular than underwear. This points to an underestimation of Amazon’s ability to pull shoppers who value style as much as practicality.

Further, Amazon is now engaging in competition with apparel retailers like ASOS and Stitchfix with the trial of their Prime Wardrobe service, which allows customers to try items on before payment is taken, charging them only for the items they keep. This deepens Amazon’s already compelling convenience proposition for shoppers.

The challenges

Apparel brands need to respond to Amazon’s advance into their market. The challenges are numerous. First of all, if they’re not on Amazon, they miss up to half of all product searches, and they aren’t where many of their consumers are going to shop. Arguably worse, though they may not have visibility or any control over the channel, their products may still be represented there by other retailers through the marketplace. This can seriously damage the brand if discounting and poor merchandising go unchecked.

Some 48% of those surveyed also said that they expected “to always pay less than full price on the site,” reinforcing the view of Amazon as a discounter, and only 12% believed Amazon’s selection of products was up-to-date. All of this means that apparel and fashion brands need to position their interaction with Amazon very carefully.

The opportunities

Well, it’s the second biggest retailer of apparel in the US – that indicates it’s a solid place to be for customers to discover and engage with a brand. The risks outlined previously mean that brands need to be able and willing to carefully monitor and control that engagement, in terms of content production, pricing and assortment. If they do so, they can benefit from Amazon’s massive volume of traffic and array of marketing and promotional tools to direct and shape customer behaviour on-site.

The value of remaining in the consumer’s mind is hard to pin down, but for most brands it’s clearly better to be in the list of options a shopper is offered (ideally at the top) than not at all. Being present where customers shop is vital, and Amazon is a great channel for exposure. The research also crucially reveals that key department chains in the US are losing out to Amazon as customers shift their behaviour, a pattern repeating internationally. The UK has seen iconic department store retailers like Marks & Spencer’s, House of Fraser and BHS struggle or disappear in recent years as they have failed to adapt to the increasingly online-first reality of shopping. For brands, limiting their exposure and diversifying away from primarily offline retailers is a key step in their long-term futures.

Addressing opportunities and overcoming challenges

There are several keys to seizing the opportunities offered by Amazon.  Firstly, brands need to assess whether selling directly as a third party through the Marketplace or using the Vendor Central service is the right path forward for them. These don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and a hybrid model may be the most appropriate for some brands. Find out more about the differences between the routes to market on Amazon here. LINK

Secondly, apparel brands need to have great product data, including keyword rich descriptions, search terms, and attributes. This data set directly impacts the success of a product on Amazon as it provides the basis for the A9 search engine to understand the relevancy of a product to a given search term.

Brands need the expertise to create the best possible merchandising and content within the frameworks Amazon provides, such as A+ content, Enhanced Brand Content and Sponsored Products. (For more information on any of the terms used in this article, browse our Amazon Glossary.)

Finally, to win on Amazon, apparel brands need to be willing to invest in the marketing spend to kickstart growth and stay ahead of competitors, and in the technological support which enables them to deliver the truly great customer experiences the platform demands.


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