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Neither the e-commerce giant nor government is going to save fashion. The industry needs to save itself by embracing substantive, systemic change, argues Lawrence Lenihan.
for high-end, independent brands in partnership with
. But Amazon is no friend to fashion brands.
Meanwhile, fashion leaders are
lobbying for government
aid to help the industry hold out for a return to a normalcy that will never arrive. The hard truth is that fashion is not top of mind in terms of critical national importance, nor is it considered deserving of sympathy by the public who will influence the politicians making these decisions.
Most tragically, while the industry awaits these panacean fantasies, it wastes time, energy and resources that could be invested in real, substantive, systemic industry change that could pave the way for a brighter future. Nobody is going to come to save fashion. Fashion must save itself.
Amazon Is Bad for Brands
There is an allegory about a frog who agrees to give a scorpion a ride across a river. The scorpion assures the frog that it will not sting him because, if it did, both frog and scorpion would drown and die. Nevertheless, in the middle of the river, the scorpion stings the frog. As he drowns, killing them both, the frog asks the scorpion,”Why?” The response:”Because it is my nature.”
Fashion brands are the frog to Amazon’s scorpion. Amazon saving fashion brands is against its nature; it runs contrary to everything it has done and how it operates. Here are some recent highlights that underscore Amazon’s nature:
Every element of Amazon.com is architected for utilitarian, non-branded search. Filters are organised by price, customer reviews, newness or paid placement. Each customer search brings an endless “spreadsheet” of products to sort through, all similarly displayed in tiny images. Everything is designed for apples-to-apples comparisons. Smart brands, like Nike, have realised this and left.
Customer intent is critical to Amazon’s success, and it uses its ubiquitous presence as leverage to develop brand-competitive private label products. The
Wall Street Journal
reported a few weeks ago that Amazon was using the sales data from sellers to launch competing products. More than 50 percent of its private-label sales are apparel, jewellery and footwear. Expect more private labels as its thirst for fashion expansion grows.
Amazon is designed to enable non-brands to thrive.
In a survey of nearly one million product listings on Amazon by Coresight,”generic” was the most significant”brand” and the number of generic clothing listings on the site increased 900 percent from 2018 to 2019. Thousands of manufacturing-oriented “brands” have sprung up that copy branded products, make them cheaply with zero transparency and sell them on Amazon.
Brands are forced to sell against resellers. Eighty-seven percent of listings are from third-party sellers, some reputable, some not. The presence of counterfeit products is something that critics, from Adidas to
, have faulted Amazon for being lax in policing.
In sum, Amazon is the antithesis of brand.
In sum, Amazon is the antithesis of brand. There is only one brand that is important to Amazon and that is Amazon. Its nature is to enforce commoditisation where convenience, selection and price win — not brand. Where a branded product can stand out, Amazon makes that product under its own brand or private label. Otherwise, it is indifferent to
is sold, so long as
is sold. Therefore, any brand differentiation is ultimately its enemy because brands diminish its power as a dominant logistics provider. Once your customer is on the Amazon site, every ounce of branding you have invested in creating, each element of product differentiation you have built, is ripped away, and your relationship with your customer is hijacked.
Is Amazon evil? No. Not at all. But that does not make it good for the fashion industry. Like the scorpion, it cannot help but act on its nature.
No Saviours, No Bailouts
Paradoxically, the seeds of the fashion industry’s demise have been sown by its success over the past 30 years. Fashion has shipped much of its manufacturing out of the West, emphasised volume over quality, big over small, data over design, trend over innovation, plausible deniability over sustainability. Now, it tries to present itself as worthy of government bailouts by calling out the needs of struggling small, independent designers. But the truth is the industry’s large retailers have been killing these designers for years.
Tragically, so many workers across the industry
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