Walmart and Amazon Emerge as Fashion’s Duopoly

Although Walmart has long beat Amazon in overall U.S. apparel and accessories revenue, the mass retailer’s lack of an online fashion presence has made it less of a competitor in that space.

But that’s bound to change with Walmart subsidiary Jet.com’s recent acquisition of the womenswear retailer Modcloth, the company’s largest push yet to connect with a younger, more fashion-savvy clientele. The move helps round out Jet.com’s similarly minded purchases earlier this year of the outdoor retailer Moosejaw and the online footwear shop Shoebuy.

The personalization playbook
“This move from Walmart is to not only amp up its e-commerce strategy and compete against Amazon, but also to strengthen its personalization strategy by continuing to acquire highly curated brands, which will expand its reach to new audiences,” said Tushar Patel, the CMO of the commerce software company, Kibo.

That personalization is crucial today, as consumers come to expect it more and more. A recent Salesforce report titled “State of the Connected Consumer” found that 61 percent of millennial consumers and 52 percent of Gen-Xers would be willing to share personal data in exchange for personalized experiences in-store and online.

By syncing up with unique companies like Modcloth and Moosejaw, Walmart is now better poised to offer that personalization and cater to a wider swath of young consumers.

“This is new territory for Walmart, which previously built a reputation with consumers of being the ultimate megastore where they could find commodity items at the lowest prices, but not necessarily a place where they could find a unique and highly curated shopping experience,” said Patel.

And as Jenn Markey, the VP of Marketing at 360pi, points out, Walmart’s position as the “store for everything” has lost its charm amidst “the endless online shelf.”

Struggling for fashion

That “endless online shelf” could be equated to Amazon itself, which got a head start on the fashion front when it acquired the popular e-commerce platform Shopbop in 2006 and the online footwear retailer Zappos in 2009. In 2012, the company solidified its interest in the industry when it launched the Amazon Fashion arm, dedicated to upping the ante on its product assortment and imagery, as well as developing relationships with the likes of the CFDA.

That transition hasn’t been without its road bumps. “It is an extremely difficult and unforgiving line between being a price leader and being a fashion authority,” said Markey. “Much of it comes down to the shopping experience and perceptions of getting a great deal.”

Indeed, Amazon has struggled to court a lot of prestige designers willing to associate with the other mass market brands it sells. To counteract this, they’ve streamlined the Amazon Fashion landing page and styled lookbooks in the vein of its sister site Shopbop. Though Calvin Klein and BCBG Max Azria are sold through the site, the rest of its offerings fall into the lower-priced contemporary market, with brands like French Connection and MinkPink.

Compare this to Walmart’s assortment — which includes Hanes, Jordache and a slew of brands industry figures have likely never heard of — and it seems positively luxurious.

Good deals trump all

However, that attitude — toward both Amazon and Walmart — is short-sighted and one that many experts believe fashion should be weary of.

As Markey mentioned, consumers want a good deal just as much, if not more, than a pleasant shopping experience. The latest Consumer Trends Report from Kibo backs this up: 70 percent of consumers said price is the most important factor when making purchases online, with brand being the second most important factor, influencing 12 percent of consumers — and retailer being the third most important factor, at 6 percent.

“This goes to show that even fashion consumers will choose pricing over a [prestige] retailer brand, if they can obtain their desired product at the time required,” said Patel.

Amazon and Jet.com already thrive off of their endless stream of deals (and speedy shipping), a fact which is likely to outweigh any weaknesses — like a less appealing brand experience — in the long run. And both companies are already working to mitigate those weaknesses, as their acquisitions and vertical build-outs indicate.

The two sites “[will be able to] provide personalized experiences at the best possible prices or in conjunction with fast fulfillment options” much sooner than beloved fashion e-commerce platforms like Net-a-Porter or Matches will be able to speed up their shipping or lower their pricing, said Patel.

And as Chris Paradysz, the founder and CEO of PMX Agency, pointed out, companies as large and nimble as Amazon probably would have tackled said weaknesses already, if they felt they were a threat to their success. “I would not underestimate their priorities and understanding of consumer behavioral shifts,” he said. “Overhauling their user experience would be significant, but you can be sure they’re constantly testing the impact this would have on the shopping behaviors they’ve carefully created.”

Read the full article, with comments from PMX Agency CEO, Chris Paradysz, here in Digiday. 

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