On Thursday 19 January 2022, Amazon announced that it would be opening its first-ever brick and mortar clothing store in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale, California. Dubbed Amazon Style, the store, set to open its doors later this year, will feature women’s and men’s apparel, shoes, and accessories from a mix of well-known and emerging brands. But that’s not even the biggest news—the shop will also include algorithmic recommendations and what one corporate director called “a magic closet” in the fitting room.
As some of you may know by now, Amazon first began testing the waters of physical retail when it opened a bookstore back in 2015. Soon after, it acquired upscale supermarket chain Whole Foods for $13.7 billion in 2017. Since then, it has launched a number of other formats, including grab-and-go shops, stores that only feature top-selling items online, and even its own supermarket chain, Amazon Fresh.
When it comes to its involvement in the fashion retail industry, until now, Amazon had focused on growing its monopoly online—and boy did it succeed. According to CNBC, in March 2021, it “surpassed Walmart as the first apparel retailer in the US, and [its] apparel and footwear sales in the US grew by approximately 15 per cent in 2020 to more than $41 billion.” Those are some pretty impressive numbers we’re talking about here.
We all know that the e-commerce platform found early success with online apparel by selling a wide range of basics from both popular brands and its own private labels. It then comes as no surprise that Amazon is now opening its first physical clothing store—yet another opportunity for it to hook shoppers who might not have otherwise considered it as an apparel destination.
But how will Amazon Style function exactly? According to Reuters, model items will be displayed on the racks while customers will be able to scan a code using Amazon’s mobile app to select the colour and size they’d like to purchase. To try on the clothes, which will be stored in the back of the store, shoppers will have to enter a virtual queue for a fitting room that they’ll unlock with their smartphone once it is ready.
Inside, the dressing room will consist of “a personal space for you to continue shopping without ever having to leave,” Simoina Vasen, a managing director at the soon-to-be-opened shop, told Reuters. Each dressing room will include a touchscreen that lets shoppers request more items that staff will deliver to a secure, two-sided closet “within minutes.” Vasen went on to describe it as a “magic closet with seemingly endless selection.” Great, just what we needed.
And because this wouldn’t be an Amazon store without an algorithm somewhere to fuck with your decision-making skills, the touchscreens mentioned above will also suggest items to shoppers. Amazon will keep a record of every good a customer scans—technically, it already does so on its e-commerce—which will allow its algorithms to personalise clothing recommendations for them. Shoppers will also be offered to fill out a style survey as they enter the store. By the time they arrive in a fitting room, employees will have already deposited their requested items along with other options picked by Amazon’s algorithms. Spine-chilling, I know.
Oh, and if selling (once more) your palm print, soul and whatever’s left of your decision-making skills to an algorithm doesn’t sound good to you, Amazon did mention that shoppers will be able to opt out with a concierge’s help instead. Something tells me this option won’t be so easy to turn to though.
If you’ve been following our reporting on Amazon for any length of time, you’d be mistaken for thinking we give Amazon a hard time. But it’s the depressing reality. In fact, I’d love to report on anything good this multi-national, multi-billion-dollar company has brought to the world, yet sadly, the bad news just keeps on coming. From racial discrimination and sexual harassment allegations to continuously mistreating staff, paying them low wages and even using algorithms to fire them, Amazon really doesn’t have a good track record. And now, thanks to a recent investigation conducted by Reuters, we can add copying other products and rigging search results to promote its own brands to the list.
Amazon has been repeatedly accused of knocking off products it sells on its website and of exploiting its wealth of internal data to promote its own merchandise at the expense of other sellers. To this day, the company has, of course, denied all allegations. However, a recent report by Reuters—which involved examining the thousands of internal documents, such as emails, strategy papers and business plans—suggests otherwise.
Reuters found that the company has run a systematic campaign of creating knockoffs and manipulating the search results of customers to boost its own product lines in India—one of the company’s largest growth markets. According to the report, the documents reveal how Amazon’s private brands in India have secretly exploited the data from Amazon.in to copy products sold by other companies—subsequently offering them on Amazon’s own platform. The employees also stoked sales of Amazon private-brand products by rigging Amazon’s search results so that the company’s products would appear, as one 2016 strategy report for India put it, “in the first 2 or three […] search results” when customers were shopping on Amazon.in.
The multi-national retailer has had a rocky history of allegations, in particular after employees who have worked on private-brand products have accused the company of exploiting proprietary data from individual sellers to launch competing products and manipulating search results to increase the sale of the company’s goods. However, the recent findings, published by the Reuters investigation team on 13 October 2021, provides evidence for the first time that the company is actively manipulating search results in favour of its own products—and that high-level executives were in on the act, or at least told about it.
As the document states, two executives reviewed the India strategy—senior vice presidents Diego Piacentini, who has since left the company, and Russell Grandinetti, who runs Amazon’s international consumer business. The findings indicate this was true for India, however, questions can be made as to whether this rigging of search results is also happening in other nations across the globe.
In response to the findings made by Reuters using the documents published, Amazon replied: “As Reuters hasn’t shared the documents or their provenance with us, we are unable to confirm the veracity or otherwise of the information and claims as stated. We believe these claims are factually incorrect and unsubstantiated.” It did not elaborate or address the questions raised by Reuters about the evidence in the documents presented in clear sight—instead, it deflected the allegations in a dismissive manner as quickly as they arrived. And considering the company’s not-so-perfect track record, I’m betting more of the same cheatery will soon be found in other countries.