Amazon has made great strides in apparel sales and has captured 29% of the U.S. online apparel market, but so far the site is viewed as a good source of basics and other apparel needs, rather than a place to discover fashion, according to research from brand intelligence firm WGSN published by Business of Fashion.
Just 6% of respondents in the firm's new "Barometer" survey, which has measured brand perception since its March launch this year, singled out Amazon as a fashion destination, compared to 35% for J.C. Penney and Macy's, according to the report.
Amazon does better when it comes to apparel purchases, but so do other retailers. More than a third (35%) of those who had visited Amazon had made a purchase, but in the same period 43% of visitors to Walmart and 39% of those who went to J.C. Penney bought something, the survey found.
These results in part expose the importance of brick-and-mortar retail, especially in apparel sales, and backs up previous research.
"If you look at the statistics on consumer preferences, consumers actually like going to physical stores. There's emotion that goes into a purchase, and they want to see an item, feel it, touch it," Sam Cinquegrani, CEO of digital commerce solutions firm ObjectWave, told Retail Dive last year. "If I were a retailer, especially a predominantly online retailer like Amazon, I would be concerned about that advantage. Given their success, you might think they wouldn't be. But Amazon has always proven to be much smarter than everyone else, so it's not surprising that they'd push into physical retail."
Indeed, an A.T. Kearney survey found that, among those who prefer to buy online, fully two-thirds say they still rely on a physical store either before or after their purchase, Andres Mendoza Pena, a partner in global management consulting firm A.T. Kearney’s retail practice, told Retail Dive last year. "That means that when you're buying a dress online, it's likely that you're going to be looking at that dress — the feeling, the color — and to do that, you leverage a physical environment prior to the purchase."
There are other advantages to brick-and-mortar beyond that emotional pull, too. Physical stores have also proven to be integral to customer loyalty, returns, fulfillment and — believe it or not — a driver of online sales. "We found 'If I don't have a store near my house to make an eventual return, I don't make the purchase,'" Pena said. "So let's agree that a physical store adds value to consumers, even when they transact online."
That is likely behind Amazon's more concerted push into brick and mortar, although so far the focus has been on selling books and electronic devices and, since its August acquisition of Whole Foods, grocery — and not apparel. Since buying Whole Foods, the e-commerce giant has also partnered with department store Kohl's to create "store within store" concessions in spaces staffed by Amazon employees and offering returns handled by Kohl's employees.
"Retailers that have a store portfolio do tend to have much more awareness. It is a way of reaching a lot of customers and talking to them about your brand in a space that you control," Francesca Muston, head of retail at WGSN, told Business of Fashion. For that reason, Muston said Amazon Fashion "still has a long way to go."