Amazon Fashion president Cathy Beaudoin left the company last week after eight years there, Business of Fashion reports, and a successor will soon be named.
“Cathy Beaudoin has decided to step down from her position as President of Amazon Fashion,” A spokesperson for Amazon Fashion told Business of Fashion. “Given the momentum of the business and strength of the team, she’s decided now is the right time to pass the baton. We thank Cathy for her tremendous contributions to Amazon Fashion and wish her all the best.” A request to Amazon from Retail Dive for comment was not immediately returned.
Beaudoin, who left Gap’s Piperlime, the online apparel brand she developed (and that Gap shuttered in 2015) to join Amazon in 2008, was named president of Amazon Fashion in 2012, according to the report.
Amazon has pushed assertively into apparel in recent years, from basics like socks and men’s shirts to dresses and athleisure. Its $16.3 billion apparel sales in 2015 exceeded those of the next five competitors — Macy’s, Nordstrom, Gap, Kohl’s and Victoria’s Secret parent L Brands — combined.
The retailer has also made a bet that younger shoppers will buy clothes with less regard for their labels: Last year Amazon quietly launched seven new private label brands, with offerings that include men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, men’s dress shoes, and men’s and women’s accessories.
The e-commerce giant also appears to be wary of how nimble fast-fashion supply chains have allowed those retailers to lure shoppers from specialty apparel retailers and department stores. Amazon was awarded a patent for “a system of on demand apparel manufacturing [that] includes a textile printer, textile cutter, and a computing device” that could be used to make apparel or textile home goods. The patent describes a system that could batch orders according to a variety of categories, like type or delivery address, to improve efficiency of manufacture and order fulfillment.
That fits with Amazon’s data-based approach to retail in general and addresses one of the most vexing aspects of apparel retail — a high level of returns, especially in e-commerce, where customers don’t have the benefit of trying on goods before they buy. In fact, former Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren last year expressed some skepticism about reports that Amazon would do all that well in apparel sales, saying the company is "going to have an interesting challenge when they start getting all those returns coming back online.”
Amazon is proving to be a force in the category: 46% of consumers surveyed by Morgan Stanley earlier this week said they'd purchased clothes on Amazon over the last 12 months, behind only Wal-Mart Stores at 60%, according to a report in Barron's. And 47% of "likely" Amazon shoppers say they expect to buy more clothes on Amazon and fewer clothes at other retailers over the next 12 months, according to that report.
Still, Amazon is hard pressed to address the fickleness of the apparel consumer, who may yet change their mind even when a shirt is made to order. And many consumers, including the very young members of Generation Z, still prefer to try on clothes in stores, appreciating the immediate touch, fit and feel opportunities and the satisfaction of walking out with a new clothing purchase. That means that apparel retail may eventually be part of Amazon's nascent but expanding brick-and-mortar strategy. It's unclear whether Beaudoin's departure has anything to do with any shift in strategy there, however.
In a survey of more than 2,500 U.S. consumers, global management consulting firm A.T. Kearney 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 A.T. Kearney’s retail practice, told Retail Dive earlier this 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."