Can Amazon help me dress better? Is technology going to change the way we purchase clothes? And do I have a future in modeling?
I set out to answer those questions with my latest adventure: a test-run of Amazon Prime Wardrobe.
The Seattle tech giant launched Prime Wardrobe last year, challenging Nordstrom, Macy’s and other department stores with a service that lets online shoppers select and ship a box of clothes, shoes and accessories to their homes to try them on before buying.
The program is available on an invite-only basis to Prime members (who now pay $119 per year) though Amazon this month is opening it up to more people. It’s one of several ongoing fashion initiatives from Amazon, which is now the second-largest apparel retailer in the U.S. after Walmart.
Prime Wardrobe is similar to Nordstrom-owned Trunk Club or publicly-traded Stitch Fix, but without the personal stylist — which, as I learned, is a nice perk when you aren’t exactly knowledgeable about the latest fashion trends (my favorite outfit is sweatpants and a hoodie).
You can read my full review below. In a nutshell, I found Prime Wardrobe to be pretty slick. The ordering and return process was easy, and it was kind of fun trying on a bunch of clothes in the comfort of my own home.
I ordered eight items and kept two — a $59.95 pair of Sperry Top-Siders, and a $15.61 pair of Champion jogger pants (I really love sweatpants).
The other six products were a mix of Amazon-owned brands, including Amazon Essentials and Goodthreads. The quality wasn’t the issue, but rather the fit. Pants were too baggy; shirts were too long or tight.
Amazon knows this is a problem. It’s why the company is using high-tech 3D scanning technology to study body size and shape, as The Wall Street Journal reported this week.
Prime Wardrobe isn’t all that much different than manually ordering a bunch of clothes and returning what you don’t want — Amazon does not charge for returns.
There is a $20 discount when you spend $200 or more, and you aren’t actually charged until deciding what to keep.
But I don’t see myself using this again. You’re limited to Prime Wardrobe-eligible items; there’s no stylist to take your sizes and recommend cool items; and having to bring my returns to a UPS Store was a bit of an inconvenience.
That being said, I don’t really have a better alternative to fall back on. My clothing purchases typically happen on random trips to the department store or dropping by my favorite thrift shop. I’ve tried Trunk Club a few times, but haven’t used it in nearly two years. And a majority of my closet is filled with t-shirts from tech events and startups.
If Amazon can figure out a way to precisely measure my body size and then ship me affordable products with the help of a fashion expert — whether human or robot, or perhaps a combination of both — then count me in for Prime Wardrobe in the future. It sure beats standing in line for the dressing room with nobody to tell me how ugly the shirt I’m about to buy looks.
As for the modeling, well, that’s still up for debate.
Time to test a new tech service. This time it's Amazon Prime Wardrobe. Should I keep the shirt? What about the vest? More importantly do I have a future in modeling? pic.twitter.com/EO2zuqs7Ow
— Taylor Soper (@Taylor_Soper) May 1, 2018
While Amazon doesn’t offer a personal stylist to help put together your box, I did like how it created categories based on styles (cool, classic; athleisure, casual) or different occasions (work, party, vacation, weekend). There were also fun pages like “Style 101: The Basics,” or “New Arrivals.” Products ranging from clothing to shoes to accessories were available for women, men, kids, and babies.
Amazon also featured brands available on Prime Wardrobe, which include Levis, Calvin Klein, and other recognizable names, but also Amazon’s own lines like Goodthreads and Amazon Essentials. Amazon now sells more than 70 of its own private-label brands that range from clothing to grocery.
The navigation experience is much like finding anything else on Amazon, with the ability to filter by price, brand, and more. A Prime Wardrobe logo appeared next to each item eligible for the service.
I liked being able to sort through items and find the best or most-reviewed products as a measure for quality and popularity. Some of the shirts or shoes I wanted, however, weren’t in stock.
Amazon requires you to add a minimum of three items and a maximum of eight for each box. I filled it up with pants, shorts, a vest, shirts, and shoes.
Shipping is free, but my first surprise of this experience was the expected shipping date: 7-to-11 days from the order date. That seemed quite long by Amazon standards. In the Prime Wardrobe FAQ, Amazon states that “in order to ship your order in as few boxes as possible, shipping may take 4-6 business days.”
Opening the box
The box indeed took 11 days to arrive at my doorstep — five days to process, and another six days to ship. Thankfully it wasn’t stolen from the front porch, which is another concern with this service.
A pamphlet provides basic instructions on how to return items, and the box includes a prepaid return label that you stick on the same box when sending back unwanted goods. Each item came individually packaged.
One of the biggest advantages of this service and others like it is being able to try on different clothes with the ability to see what might match with your current wardrobe.
I immediately liked the Sperry kicks, and of course the sweatpants. The t-shirts, chinos, and vest from Amazon brands were actually quite nice in quality. But the fits just felt a bit off.
Amazon gives you a week to try on the clothes and decide what, if anything, you want to return. I went back online and paid for what I wanted to keep — a key step, or else Amazon will charge you for everything in the box if you miss the deadline. However, you still have 30 days from the end of the try-on period to return for a refund.
I didn’t end up receiving a discount because my eventual purchase didn’t exceed $200. I finally packed everything else back into the box and drove it to the UPS Store.
So why is Amazon doing this? And will it succeed with customers?
The apparel market is huge; everybody needs clothes. Online apparel spending has increased by a compound annual growth rate of 14 percent since 2012. Brick-and-mortar still represents more than 75 percent of annual apparel industry dollars, according to NPD. Those trends are partly why Amazon arch-rival Walmart has acquired startups like Bonobos and ModCloth in the past year.
Related: I let Amazon’s new ‘Outfit Compare’ choose my clothes — but I just couldn’t follow the advice
But many people shy away from buying clothes online. Seeing a model photo or written description isn’t the same as being able to feel, touch, and try on a dress shirt or pair of jeans at a physical store.
That’s why companies like Stitch Fix, which went public in December and is valued at $2 billion, and Trunk Club, which Nordstrom acquired for $350 million in 2014, were created. (Notable: Nordstrom took a $197 million write-down on Trunk Club two years after the acquisition).
If Amazon can pair its e-commerce expertise in data analysis and personalization with the home try-on model pioneered by these competitors, it could become an attractive service, particularly for those who hate going to the mall or generally avoid online apparel shopping. The company also has developed one of the most extensive logistics networks and can perhaps handle — and afford — returns from its try-on service better than others.
This is also about adding more value to Amazon’s Prime membership program that now has more than 100 million subscribers worldwide. And it’s another way to attract current non-Prime members who may not care about benefits like free 2-day shipping or streaming video, but like the idea of Prime Wardrobe.
Amazon has already made several tweaks to Prime Wardrobe since it initially launched, and more improvements are likely needed. But there is certainly potential as Amazon aims to become the leading online apparel retailer and use technology to dominate yet another market.