Hi-tech, disappointing: Amazon’s IRL clothing store misses the point | Amazon

Outside of Amazon’s first in-person clothing store in California, 22-year-old Diemmi Le summed up her experience, “You don’t have to talk to anyone.”

For years, Amazon tried — and ultimately failed — to turn its online book business into thriving brick-and-mortar bookstores. Dozens of stores have been closed this spring. Now the online shopping giant is trying again, this time trying to reinvent the mall’s clothing store.

During the pandemic, Amazon overtook Walmart to become the top apparel retailer in the United States, Wells Fargo analysts concluded last year. The company pitches 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 May in Glendale, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, lets customers use a smartphone app to send clothes straight to their fitting rooms, rather than checking them out. carry, and offers additional clothing recommendations from the company’s algorithms.

Dressed in company thongs, employees at the front of the store greet customers and offer help navigating the store’s smartphone app and free Wi-Fi and phone chargers. And there are plenty of other Amazon employees hard at work behind the scenes, quickly delivering new outfit choices to the “magic closet” in every locker room.

Amazon opened its first physical clothing store, Amazon Style, in a mall in Glendale, California. Photograph: Greg Montijo/AP

But the store is designed to make much of its staff invisible: customers can use a dressing room touchscreen to call out a different size of trouser, or a different color of shirt, without having to see or talk to another human being.

“It’s something new, something you’ve never seen before. It’s an experience, rather than a regular store,” said 28-year-old Marshall Sanders.

“Hi-tech”, but limited

In person, Amazon Style looks a bit like what someone in the 1990s might have imagined “hi-tech” shopping would look like in 2020.

The store offers a mix of well-known and even high-end brands, such as Levi’s, Vince and Theory, along with the more obscure brands and inexpensive house clothing 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 trendy prints and bag-like floral dresses.

Scan a Rebecca Taylor summer floral dress, which was listed 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 shopping at the Glendale store said the retail store’s selection was limited and not up to par with the shopping experience in Amazon’s online marketplace.

Dana Roo and Diana Guerrero, both 25, had traveled from West Los Angeles and San Diego specifically to check out the new Amazon store, but were disappointed by the lack of bargains they enjoy online . For them, Amazon was a place to find good “dupes” of high-end clothing, like Ugg’s fuzzy lounge sets, Roo said. The brick and mortar store only offered original sets.

A row of fitting rooms inside Amazon Style where all the doors are light colored wood.
Amazon Style’s fitting rooms are unlocked using an app on a smartphone and are already stocked with clothes selected by customers. Photography: Courtesy of Amazon

The boutique’s clothing offering is organized by theme, in sections with names like “rustic grace”, “feminine strength”, “Y2k” and, more pragmatically, “evening tops under $35”. The app sends an alert when the dressing room is ready and the phone unlocks the dressing room door.

Changing rooms are bright and clean, with a bright light strip around the mirror and a message welcoming them by name on a touchscreen. Details of clothing items selected by customers are displayed on screen, along with a list of new clothing choices, including recommendations for matching tops, shoes and bags to “finish the look”.

Browsing through outfit options on a touchscreen is an experience straight out of Clueless, but whether Amazon’s algorithm will create Cher-inspired looks remains to be seen.

Amazon Style’s main gimmick is what one company executive called the “magic closet” in the fitting rooms. Close the empty cupboard door, press a few buttons on the touchscreen and wait. A warning light will turn red, there will be rustling in the closet and then a sudden glow around the door: open it, and the requested clothes are there.

A touch screen inside a dressing room indicates
Inside the fitting rooms, a touch screen offers details on the garments or suggests other options. Photography: Courtesy of Amazon

Amazon makes sure to keep the workers filling its magic new closets out of sight: the “closet” door locks on the dressing room side when employees are at work in the closet, for privacy. shoppers, according to a sign in the dressing room. The rear closet door on the employee side is also locked from the inside.

Amazon claims its fast delivery of clothes is made possible by “advanced technologies and processes used in Amazon fulfillment centers,” which have also made headlines for years for grueling 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. Asked about working conditions behind the scenes at Amazon Style, the company touted what it called its competitive pay and good benefits, and said store employees have the opportunity to try out different roles in the whole 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 sellers obsolete.

Many big-box clothing stores are understaffed and their employees are too skinny to provide many personal recommendations, Rachel Kraus wrote in Mashable, which means Amazon’s algorithmic shopping might be a better option for some customers. At the same time, Kraus said, “I’m not sure an app telling me I’d look great in that top would give me the confidence boost that’s part of the fun of in-person shopping.”

In a statement, Amazon said its in-store employees, who provide customers with human recommendations and assistance, were essential to the Amazon Style experience and would continue to be part of store operations, even as customers become more accustomed to it. to using the shopping app.

Clothes are displayed on racks and on mannequins inside a white, brightly lit clothing store.
Humans are essential to the Amazon Style experience, the company said. Photography: Courtesy of Amazon

The Glendale store currently employs hundreds of people, many with previous experience in the apparel industry, Amazon said. Since employees at the front of the store didn’t have to spend time restocking sizes on the floor, he suggested employees would have more time to interact with customers and provide recommendations.

Customers who browsed inside the new California store earlier this month praised the friendly staff at the front of the store, though many were split on whether they liked the overall concept: some said they found it “really cool” and innovative, others the experience was overwhelming. , and some said the in-store clothing selection was disappointing compared to what they could find online.

Sanders, 28, hadn’t been a big Amazon shopper before, but said he planned to encourage his friends to try the store.

In his dressing room, Amazon’s algorithm offered Sanders items similar to the ones he had already picked out — “two things expensive and two things cheaper” — and he ended up buying one, said he said, without even realizing it.

Le said the “anti-social” aspect of the store appealed to her, but she wasn’t a big fan of the quality of Amazon’s clothing. And she saw deeper issues: The store’s “cool concept” was also “classic” and “causing a lot of disparity,” since people without smartphones wouldn’t be able to shop.

About Oscar L. Smith

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