Can Amazon steal Net-a-Porter's crown as luxury fashion's major e-retailer?


After a bookish beginning and a remarkable journey to conquer e-retail across everything from furniture to food, Amazon is now turning its attention to the world of luxury fashion.  

While Amazon Fashion actually launched back in 2012, so far the company has stuck largely to affordable brands and products, attracting only a few recognisable designer labels, such as BCBG and Calvin Klein. Now, however, Amazon is funnelling resources into its fashion business, making moves such as sponsoring Fashion Weeks in New York, India and Tokyo in a bid to associate their name with the higher end of the fashion spectrum.

When convincing luxury brands to work with them, Amazon’s primary hurdle is brands’ fear of associating themselves with the vast range of cut-price, mass market goods currently sold through the platform. The fashion industry (and particularly designer brands) works by tapping into customers’ emotional loyalty. Whether buying online or strolling down London’s Bond Street, everything about the experience of purchasing luxury goods is designed to make consumers feel sophisticated and special. Amazon, on the other hand, works primarily through functional loyalty; its 285 million active customers rely on the website as a quick and easy solution, with services such as Amazon Prime only emphasising its practical purpose. In order to attract luxury brands and compete with current market leaders such as Net-a-Porter, Amazon will need to make a number of changes to their offering.

The first thing you notice when logging onto net-a-porter.com is the beautiful front-end experience; everything from the luxe black and white branding to the glossy visuals and elegant editorial content invites the user to linger, browse and, ultimately, buy. In fact, the company even produces a monthly magazine, firmly establishing themselves as an industry authority. Amazon, on the other hand, is designed for efficiency, allowing the user to find what they want to purchase and move to the checkout in only a few clicks. Are discerning fashionistas really likely to buy thousands of pounds’ worth of designer products from the place they go to stock up on household goods? In order to convince luxury fashion brands to work with them Amazon will need to take a more curatorial approach to their UX, focusing on aesthetics over functionality to create an online environment optimised for selling expensive goods.

 

Another drawback to Amazon in the eyes of designer brands is its association with discounting. Amazon uses its hefty customer database to negotiate lower prices with suppliers and takes a flexible approach to price points, favouring cash flow over margins. While this model has been highly successful for the company thus far, these pricing inconsistencies take away from the air of exclusivity that’s an essential part of luxury fashion.

Given the disparities between the two, it isn’t surprising that Amazon and Net-a-Porter are ranked vastly differently in the eyes of UK fashion consumers. According to Starcount’s insight, Net-a-Porter is the most popular fashion brand with Fashion Insiders, a consumer segment that is filled with industry insiders such as journalists and designers whose other preferred brands include luxury designers such as Chanel and Alexander McQueen. Amazon, on the other hand, is popular with more cost-conscious fashion consumers such as the Shopping Realists and the High Street Shoppers. These segments favour more accessible fashion brands such as M&S, Next, River Island and New Look. In fact, the insight suggests that the deeper you get into the fashion passion, the more likely you are to favour Net-a-Porter as your go-to shopping site and the less likely Amazon is to appear in your preferred brands at all.

It’s clear, then, that Amazon still has a long way to go if it wants to gain business from designer labels and embed itself as a luxury fashion retailer. To speed up this process, one avenue to explore could be partnerships – and Starcount’s data suggests some favourable contenders. Certain high street brands such as Topshop and H&M have worked out how to bridge the gap between inexpensive and luxury fashion through Fashion Week shows and designer collaborations. Their success is reflected in the data, which shows that Topshop in particular is consistently popular across all UK fashion segments. By partnering with brands who have found a balance between aestheticism and affordability, Amazon could slowly start to gain the trust of luxury fashion consumers and, in turn, win over the labels that sell to them.

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