The new brick-and-mortar store, Amazon AMZN Style, opened in Columbus, Ohio, at the retail mecca Easton Town Center. The experience incorporates technology (no surprise), focusing on curated fashion items for men and women. The store is a showroom of fashion products where shoppers scan barcodes to request items to be purchased or tried on. Unlike today’s specialty stores, where all products are available on the floor, Amazon Style has one of each item on the floor. Shoppers request size and color through their smartphone to be either tried on in the fitting room or to be picked up in the store.
Upon entering the store, the trained associates explain to shoppers how to use their smartphones to select products. As shoppers walk through the store, they can add items to their “fitting rooms,” while the associates pick and prepare each shopper’s fitting room behind the scenes. Shoppers can also shop “looks,” meaning that when they scan a particular look from a display or mannequin, all items appear on their mobile device. Users can select which items they want to be sent to the fitting room or readied for pick up at a designated area in the store.
I was able to shop the store four days after it opened and was impressed by the technology and efficiency of the concept. I had my doubts early on but as soon as I entered the store, an associate showed me how to use the app (the technology is embedded in the Amazon app) and shop the store. The experience of being able to shop and not have to lug around piles of clothes and shoes to try on was amazing. It made the shopping journey stress-free, easy and convenient. After selecting 15 items to try on, the fitting room was prepared for me and when it was ready, I was given an alert on my phone.
The store has 36 designated fitting rooms which are stocked with items that customers select while browsing the store. Along with the requested styles to try on, some recommended items are also placed in the fitting rooms, selected by an algorithm designed to predict a shopper’s preferences based on Amazon’s app inputs. When ready, the fitting room door is unlocked and the shopper receives a ready message specifying the room number. When I arrived in my fitting room, I checked in on a touch screen on the wall. All of the items placed in the room were visible on the screen in two rows — those I had selected to try on and the additional items recommended for me.
Shoppers may think they are sure of what they want, but in many cases, products that we would never choose for ourselves are shown to us by stylists or sales associates. In the case of Amazon Style, I could view the recommendations on the screen and select more items to be sent to me while I was in the fitting room. Each room has a closet that opens on both sides. Behind the scenes, styles are picked and placed in the closet. The shopper can open the closet and find more products to try on. Safety features ensure that the closet door is locked on the customer side while items are being put in the wardrobe. Once the back of the closet closes, the customer can access the new products that were picked.
Interesting statistics show recommendations worked
About a dozen recommendations were presented to me while I was in the fitting room. If I rated items that I tried on, the recommendations would refresh. At the end of my visit, I had tried on 24 items compared to the 15 that I had initially selected from the floor. When I left the fitting room, I purchased eight items, three of which were from the group recommended by Amazon’s algorithm.
My checkout process was seamless since the product scanning interface is integrated with the Amazon app. A stored credit card was used to make my purchase. Shopping in Amazon Style took some stress out of shopping and provided me with my own invisible stylist. The artificial intelligence behind the scenes offers great recommendations and a seamless, efficient shopping experience, complemented by the friendly and helpful staff, with well-trained and readily available associates.
For shoppers looking for a human connection and personalized interaction with a stylist, this may not be the experience that is right for them. But it should be an excellent experience for shoppers who want a wide variety of price points across many fashion segments and do not need a salesperson for style selection. Shoppers who are not adept at using technology may find it more challenging. For example, requesting recommendations from the screen should be intuitive to younger shoppers but perhaps less so to an older demographic, who might choose to use the prominent help button available on the fitting room touch screens.
The benefits of shopping in the Amazon Style store from a customer perspective is the convenience and ease of trying on items in the state of the art fitting rooms that continually bring shoppers more styles to consider. Products that are selected for trying on are not shop-worn from sitting on the floor but are virtually new products that are picked from the stockroom.
The technology is intuitive and easy to use for most Generation X and Millennial shoppers, its core target market. The entire journey is integrated through the Amazon app and the numerous features work seamlessly. The curated product assortment seemed to meet the target market and provided a wide range of styles and prices. The few items not in stock can be easily shipped to the customer’s home.
From a retailer’s perspective
Amazon gains plenty of advantages by opening these fashion style stores. The first is the ongoing amount of data the company can collect about customers, products and shopper behavior in a store, such as how long they shop, what they buy and, perhaps more importantly, what they try on but don’t buy. The back-of-house runs like a highly efficient warehouse fulfillment center. Amazon uses the same technologies that it has in its fulfillment centers to enable an efficient process to pick styles from the back stock area which includes a new complex inventory management system.
Unlike a fashion specialty store which keeps all of its products on the floor, making it sometimes difficult to find styles and sizes, inventory accuracy is high in the Amazon store. Every style is accounted for in the stockroom and is easily found for customers.
Possible challenges for the technology-driven store
Less technologically savvy customers may have difficulty navigating the store and using the technology throughout the journey. Still, those customers can always fall back on using the help button on the fitting room touchscreen or simply asking an associate for help. The other area which might present a challenge is when things occasionally go wrong — for example, if incorrect size or color is sent to the fitting room. But this may all be part of the growing pains of a new concept store.