Amazon launches Luxury Stores to separate the hoi polloi from the haute couture

Can shopping on your phone be a luxury experience? It seems unlikely, but that’s not stopping Amazon’s latest attempt to get high-end brands onboard its platform. Today, the company is unveiling what it calls Luxury Stores — a new way for brands to present their wares to discerning customers on Amazon’s mobile app, with high-end ready-to-wear brand Oscar de la Renta as the first official partner.

Luxury Stores will allow brands to create what Amazon is calling a “store within a store” experience. That means giving companies more control over inventory, selection, and pricing, while leveraging Amazon’s enormous reach to find customers. The online retailing giant will also supply brands with the digital equivalent of fancy shop windows, giving them the option to display their clothes in interactive 360-degree views.

“This interactive feature will begin rolling out with select garments at launch, allowing customers to explore styles in 360-degree detail to better visualize fit, and making shopping for luxury easier and more engaging,” said Amazon in a press statement.

How Oscar de la Renta’s new store will appear in the Amazon mobile app.
Image: Amazon via Vogue

The feature is launching with just Oscar de la Renta, but other brands will be joining in the months to come. Actually browsing the new Luxury Stores won’t be an option for just anyone, though. In line with the luxury ethos, Amazon is introducing some artificial scarcity. Only selected Amazon Prime members in the US will be invited to browse the digital racks, with Amazon presumably targeting affluent customers. (You can also request an invitation.)

More broadly speaking, the launch of Luxury Stores is Amazon’s latest attempt to break into high-end fashion. Although the company certainly sells a great deal of clothes (it’s the largest seller of apparel in the US), these items are mostly considered “fast fashion.” The retailing giant has never managed to attract or retain designer and luxury brands, who have criticized the site’s shopping experience and the prevalence of generic brands. Nike, for example, stopped all direct sales through Amazon in 2019, claiming it wanted “more direct, personal relationships” with customers than Amazon could supply.

Luxury Stores look like an attempt to address this complaint, giving brands more control over the look of their little corner of Amazon’s platform. Think of it as the digital equivalent of a red velvet rope, with Luxury Stores separating the hoi polloi from the haute couture.

Will it be a trade-off brands are willing to make? Some, certainly, will be interested in courting Amazon’s 100 million Prime customers, especially at a time when the pandemic has stifled the footfall necessary to sustain many luxury shops. Oscar de la Renta CEO Alex Bolen told Vogue it just made sense to reach customers where they were.

“For me to get more mindshare with existing customers in addition to getting new customers — that’s the name of the game. We want to be able to talk to her wherever she’s comfortable shopping,” said Bolen, adding: “This idea that you don’t want to speak to a customer where she’s spending a lot of her time is a mistake.”

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