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Can the Echo Look accelerate Amazon's push for apparel dominance?

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Amazon is aggressively stepping into the fashion world with a bet that shoppers will increasingly seek personalized recommendations and buy apparel online. And now it's finally got the technology to back it up.

In late April, the e-commerce giant launched another iteration of its Alexa-enabled Echo device: the Echo Look. The new oval-shaped hardware is equipped with a camera that can help users assess their outfits and log their favorites in a "Lookbook." Using a "style check" feature, users can call upon Alexa to pick between pictures of two outfits — using an automated assessment of factors such as fit, color, styling, seasons and current trends. The e-commerce juggernaut is betting that millennial users in particular  in search of personalization and unafraid to try to emerging technologies — will use the device as their own personal stylist. But while the technology may solve some consumer pain points, many have raised privacy concerns about the Echo Look.

With a clear pathway into the consumer's closet, Amazon is on its way to becoming the largest U.S. apparel retailer by the end of the year, according to a prediction made by Cowen & Co. in 2016Amazon is well on its way to dethroning traditional apparel retailers: Its $16.3 billion apparel sales in 2015 exceeded those of the next five competitors — Macy’s, Nordstrom, Gap, Kohl’s and Victoria’s Secret parent L Brands — combined, according to an Internet Retailer report. Amazon has also been busy forging ahead with its own private label apparel business: Last year, the e-commerce retailer quietly launched seven new private label brands, with offerings that include men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, men’s dress shoes, and men’s and women’s accessories. 

As the retail and technology giant leverages artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies to help assert itself in the apparel space, the discussion forum RetailWire asked its BrainTrust panel of retail experts the following questions:

  • How do you expect the Echo Look to affect Amazon’s apparel sales over time?
  • Will privacy concerns inhibit adoption of the device? How do you see other clothing retailers and brands responding?

Here are eight of the most provocative and insightful comments from that discussion. Comments have been edited by Retail Dive for length and clarity.

1. Privacy be damned

Zel Bianco, President, founder and CEO Interactive EdgeI: I think it will be a winner for apparel sales. It may take longer from older consumers who worry more about privacy concerns but the young among us, those young in age and young at heart, will embrace it. Privacy be damned.

2. The creep factor

Bob Phibbs, President/CEO, The Retail Doctor: I can’t imagine a man or woman over 30 using such a thing. There’s a creep factor of it looking and analyzing you. Let’s face it, most of us don’t look like those in the video who would be sharing or storing. But it’s a brilliant use of technology to wed more users to the artificial teat that is Amazon.

3. Be afraid!

Adrian Weidmann, Principal, StoreStream Metrics, LLC: Voluntarily inviting this camera into your home will assure that you will be stripped of any privacy you might have left! Bose is tracking and monitoring your listening habits, your whereabouts are being tracked by your mobile device (which also has a camera!) and you’re telling Siri about your life! We are living in an Orwellian world! You place Echo Look into your private life at your own risk! You are being (and will be) watched — ALL the time! Be afraid — be very afraid!

4. AI lacks creativity

Laura Davis-Taylor, EVP Customer Experience, MaxMedia: As a female, a retail consultant and a shopper, I’m hesitant to support this. There’s a huge debate out there on AI and if it can indeed take on creativity successfully. Data drives what Alexa would say, and how can data take the place of original inspiration? I’m curious about that. Also, the other thing is that this is very scary to me — it’s a carrot to open people’s homes up to camera tracking. No way.

5. A big deal

Stefan Weitz, Executive Vice President, Technology: This is how it begins. For a while now we have said that Amazon is at a disadvantage because of their lack of in-store experiences like clienteling. With this technology, they have effectively overcome one of the last barriers to buying clothes online. They already allow for free shipping (often overnight or same day) and free returns and now they are able to have concierge like service without the customer ever having to leave home. Combine this with their MayDay service on their tablets, and suddenly you have the potential for concierges for any product — again, without having to get off your couch. This is a big deal.

6. An effort to drive revenue

Joan Treistman, President, The Treistman Group LLC: I’m inclined to think this new device will do just fine. It seems like the answer to those of us who wish we had a personal shopper to help make apparel decisions. Privacy concerns can be a deterrent but I’m thinking that a tea cozy type of coverlet may be the remedy and I can buy it on Amazon.

Populating the content and algorithm that supplies the “opinions” is hazy to me. Brands that want to grow awareness among potential users can possibly buy into the process or not. Is this where Amazon enjoys another larger revenue stream?

7. A kidney punch to retailers

Ken Lonyai, Digital Innovation Strategist, co-founder, ScreenPlay InterActive: Absolutely nothing that wasn’t anticipated (see my previous comments on Alexa). I’ve been involved in a similar assistive project and others have these features, but not all in one place. The differentiator here is that Amazon has the momentum of a freight train and the ubiquity of air, so they are best positioned to make this and future assistive features commonplace.

By the way — this is another kidney punch to retailers that are too slow to invest in their future, some of which will ultimately be ground into paste by this trend.

8. Alexa, you’re hired

Rick Moss, President, Co-founder, RetailWire:
My wife: “Does this look OK?”
Me: “Um, sure. Yes. You look nice.”
Wife: “You don’t like it. Why don’t you like it.”
Me: “I thought I said I liked it. It’s really nice. Wear it.”
Wife: “I’ll put on something else.”

Alexa, if you can replace me in this role, you’re hired.

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Top image credit: Amazon