Amazon, the largest online retailer, is relaunching its online clothing and shoe business with a focus on high-end style as it vies with rivals such as Yoox and Net-A-Porter in the expanding online fashion market.
US online sales of clothing shoes and accessories grew 17 per cent last year to $27 billion, according to Forrester Research. Growth is expected to outstrip other categories such as electronics over the next five years.
Amazon is recruiting software engineers who it says will build “great new features to change the way people shop for clothing” with the retailer, as well as graphic designers with experience of high-end fashion retailing.
Amazon’s push into fashion coincides with a similar drive by Ebay, the online marketplace, whose online clothing, shoe and accessory sales totalled $5.5bn last year.
Ebay relaunched its clothing sales under the Ebay fashion brand in April, adding videos and comments from fashion stylists and a “find similar items” image-matching feature.
Dinesh Lathi, of Ebay’s marketplace division, said the company believed there were “fantastic opportunities for growth” in the category.
Sucharita Mulpuru, analyst at Forrester, said both Amazon and Ebay were adopting site innovations deployed by more specialised clothing sites that were contributing to growth in the category. “Consumers purchasing apparel need a lot of photos and richer imagery to be persuaded of the aesthetics of the total product.”
Online luxury fashion sales were boosted during last year’s US consumer slump as frugal customers turned to “flash sale” sites such as Gilt, Hautelook and Rue La La to buy cut-price fashion brands.
Amazon does not give data on sales by category. However, Scot Wingo, chief executive of ChannelAdvisor, which assists third-party sellers on Amazon and Ebay, said industry estimates put its clothing, shoe and accessory sales at $6bn to $8bn. Its total sales last year were $24.5 billion.
Amazon has introduced free returns on US clothing orders over $25, a tactic that has underpinned the success of Zappos, the shoe website it acquired last November.
It is planning to improve the experience of shopping for clothes on its site by expanding viewing options such as zoom, multiple views and colour variation, first deployed on its denim store in November.