There’s no such thing as a slow news year, month, week or day when it comes to Amazon, the company that with a single move alone—its closely watched search for a second headquarters—spawned headlines that drew eyeballs, interest and intense scrutiny all year long.
There are few brands that can dictate news cycles the way Amazon does—but then again, very few companies have gained entrance into the ultra-exclusive $1 trillion market value club, a distinction the Seattle firm achieved in early September.
Amazon gave fashion companies new reasons to fear its push into their territory with the news that it expanded its apparel listings by more than 27 percent in just six months, according to data from Coresight Research. On the other hand, research from Jungle Scout indicates that no one’s buying apparel from Amazon’s much-discussed private-label brands; clothing accounts for 88 percent of all of the brands owned by Amazon, and yet it comprises just 1 percent of sales from these labels. Still, millennials seem perfectly content to get new duds through the e-commerce giant. Sixty percent told Max Borges Agency in a survey that they’ve made an apparel, footwear or accessory purchase on Amazon in the past 12 months.
Could content be Amazon’s strategic weapon in the fashion fight?
A few months back Amazon Studios inked a deal with former “Project Runway stars” and fashion luminaries Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn to host an as-yet-unnamed streaming fashion reality show. Bringing video content into the mix could help Amazon strengthen its fashion ecosystem, which has yet to achieve true “destination” status though it moves plenty of apparel basics and is set to pull in close to half of all online U.S. retail sales this year.
In the second half of the year, Amazon continued investing in physical retail experiences beyond Whole Foods and its Go chain of stores, opting for experiential pop-ups with Calvin Klein and Good Housekeeping magazine in partnership with The Mall of America. The latter is noteworthy as it was an entirely cashless experience that saw customers ordering products at the pop-up for at-home delivery, furthering the offline-online crossover.
Prime Day broke its previous records, as it does—but then Amazon sets its own bar even higher with outsize performance on both Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It kept the holiday magic going by tossing out minimum shipping thresholds for the remainder of the festive season, competing directly with the likes of Walmart, Target and other big-box retailers fighting for every last dollar from every last shopper.
Amazon showed that maybe it’s listening to some of the criticism from customers and competitors alike: it might be one of the most influential websites on the Internet but its interface and UX aren’t the best.
People seem to like Amazon for its breadth of choice and functionality. But consumer behavior is shifting and people, especially young adults, seem to appreciate browsing and shopping based on visual prompts and guidelines rather than typing in a search query. Inspiration typically happens through the eyes, which is a large part of why many artificial intelligence (AI) startups are rolling out AI-based visual search tools for e-commerce.
To keep up with the trends, Amazon announced its own pilot of an image-based feature, dubbed Scout, debuting in limited categories. Consumers shopping for footwear, one of the test categories, see a pageful of styles that’s updated with similar options whenever they click on or “like” a specific shoe. This sort of feature is designed to help shoppers find the right product more quickly than via standard search methods and Amazon benefits by gathering additional data on the kinds of products, styles and attributes people respond to.
Also in the visual search arena, Amazon cozied up to social media firm Snapchat to bring the real world online. The partnership sees Snapchat’s 186 million daily active users pointing the app’s camera at IRL (in real life) objects that then link through to the same or similar on Amazon. The companies seem to be betting on a shift away from text-based interfacing and searches moving to a sensory, immersive, in-the-moment interaction harnessing the advanced technologies on smartphones today.
In an active first half of 2018, Amazon merged its retail and marketplace groups to optimize efficiencies; opened its Prime Wardrobe try-before-you-buy program to all Prime members following a beta pilot; and saw rivals like Microsoft debut their own cashier-less checkout solutions mimicking its innovative “just walk out” Amazon Go convenience stores.
And despite the aftermath of Thanksgiving weekend’s all-out consumption overload that prompted a consumer backlash against Amazon’s Prime membership program, the e-commerce innovator seems so far to be unscathed. Prime members’ over-reliance on the program contributes to create packaging waste on top of concerning warehouse conditions and the added emissions and traffic from scores of package delivery vehicles.
Does Amazon really have anything to worry about? Not according to Morning Consult’s brand survey in which thousands of consumers told the company that Amazon is the brand they love the most. And among millennials, Amazon’s top three—keeping good company alongside perennial favorites Nike and Apple.