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Apparel war: Amazon set to come out tops
Earlier this week, Forbes reported Amazon’s telling impact in the retail sector in recent times. This impact is in terms of its own growth and how it is overshadowing established retailers in the U.S. market. The report confirms Amazon’s 27% share in the global growth in retail and a 28% rise in its revenues between January and March this year. One area in which Amazon is making a major thrust, and with good results, is the apparel segment.
The times are very different from the days when brick-and-mortar stores ruled the roost in the apparels industry. Recent market trends suggest that e-commerce sites, particularly Amazon, have taken over. Consumers still affected by the recession are on the lookout for huge discounts in the online market, which has pushed sales upward. This has provoked a report from financial services firm Cowen that Amazon will overtake Macy’s in 2017 as the leading clothing retailer in the U.S. Cowen estimates that the gross merchandise value of Amazon’s apparel business in the U.S. will expand from $15 billion this year to $50 billion by the end of the decade.
The recent performances by leading American retailers like Macy’s, Kohl’s, JC Penney, and Nordstrom bears out this disruption in the retail garments industry–they have all reported lower sales. Macy’s reported a 6.1% decline in same-store sales, while Kohl’s same-store sales fell 3.9%. Nordstrom also missed its profit and sales targets, which resulted in a 16% fall in its share prices.
On the other hand, in contrast to these dismal figures from major chains, Amazon continues to increase apparel sales. Cowen’s monthly survey of about 2500 U.S. buyers has confirmed that Amazon is attracting new buyers regularly. In the first quarter, the number of buyers of Amazon apparel increased 19% year-on-year. In contrast, the number of shoppers at Macy’s has not changed. Conversely, the number of buyers at Wal-Mart declined by 1% and those at Target by 5%.
The only traditional retailer faring comparatively well in the market is TJX, which recorded a 7% increase in sales. TJX attracts customers who are looking for discounts, which might explain its good performance. However, according to Cowen, its apparel sales are likely to be less than half the sales at Amazon by 2020.
This is a big turnaround because, barely five years ago, Amazon accounted for only 1.4% of clothing, handbags, and shoes sold in America. However, in recent months, Amazon has built its portfolio of fashion apparel considerably. It has included several well-known apparel brands by giving them their exclusive “boutiques” on its website. These brands include Calvin Klein, Lacoste, and Levi Strauss. Bloomberg reports that American worldwide clothing and accessories retailer Gap–which has been facing less than expected returns on investment–is also considering to sell its wares on Amazon.
Besides, Amazon has launched seven private-label brands of its own with close to 2,000 offerings, most priced below $100. The decision to launch its own brands is understandable because Amazon has a huge pool of data regarding consumer trends and preferences and can leverage this information to provide customers with merchandise that is otherwise unavailable.
Cowen’s forecast is backed up by a report released by analysts at Morgan Stanley, who assert that Amazon will dominate the apparel industry by 2020 with a 20% market share. That’s a sharp increase from its current share of 7%. This shift in position over the next few years could also be partly riding on Amazon’s Prime membership program making its way to many more households in America.
The study by Morgan Stanley found that traditional department stores have lost $29.6 billion in sales over the last decade. In the same period, e-commerce sites have gained $27.8 billion in apparel sales. According to the analysts, about a fifth of buyers in the U.S. regularly shop for clothes from Amazon, while a healthy 40% regard Amazon as an “excellent” or “great source of fashion inspiration.” Clearly, there is a move away from brick-and-mortar stores to e-commerce sites like Amazon.
According to analysts at Stifel (quoted in MarketWatch), “Consumers visit stores less as they feel less urgency to visit the mall and instead shop and buy online. However, they are not buying enough to offset the falling store sales. We are convinced that stores remain an important component of apparel retailing but recognize that an equilibrium must be found between stores and online.”
One of the main advantages for e-commerce sites like Amazon over other retailers is that they do not have the liability of running physical stores and the associated problems like real-estate value, maintenance, and marketing. Besides, easy shipping and returns is also an added advantage for consumers on e-commerce sites. Traditional buyers like to try their clothes in stores before they buy, but easy returns have filled that lacuna for Amazon; if you don’t like something or something is not the right fit, you can return it with all the logistics handled by Amazon.