Sure, Amazon’s “Outfit Compare” Sucks… But It’s Also Kinda Genius

As you may have heard, Amazon just launched their new “Outfit Compare” feature for Amazon Prime. You submit two photos of yourself wearing each outfit, then their stylists/algorithms recommend which looks best.

Aaaaand the internet has responded with a resounding “this really sucks.” But, why? Because…

It’s been done before: Fashishm (dead), Go Try It On (acquired by Rent the Runway), and Fitting Room (pivoted). This is a really easy idea to execute :  customers take 2 pictures, and you choose one. I’m sure they’re using really complex algorithms and stylists…but at the end of the day it’s a coin flip.

It’s ugly: Yeah, it kind of looks like something a bunch of bros made at their college hackathon. Gotta respect them for just getting it out there — but still—it is u-g-l-y. This is a big “no-no” when addressing something as sensitive as a person’s appearance. Aesthetics matter.

It’s a pain: The app literally requires you to take full-body photographs of two completely different outfits to help make this decision. For working women/mothers, this represents an obscene consumption of TIME in the morning — a precious commodity. “I’ll take your 15 minute decision and turn it into a 30 minute decision” isn’t really a solution; it’s pretty much just a waste of everyone’s time.

All that being said, I understand it’s a first go. I don’t think we should write it off as a failed pet-project. The folks at Amazon who worked on this are not dumb. In fact, they’re really smart ,  and I think there is more nuance to what they’re doing if you look at the emerging strategy. Why? Because…

Amazon’s move to address fashion OUTSIDE of transactions is PURE GENIUS.

I think Amazon’s move is really significant - because this the first time that a major retailer has offered styling services completely separate from selling clothing. It’s like they launched a new category that didn’t exist in retailer’s minds. I think this is a calculated reaction to some trends in the fashion industry this century.

In the past 20 years we’ve seen the rise of a trend called “fast fashion” — a strategy characterized by releasing new lines every week of cheap clothes resulting in an increase in the number of items we buy. Brands like H&M, Zara, and Forever21 have changed the fashion industry by shifting our buying habits from seasonal to weekly. The result? In 1994 the average person bought only 30 items of clothing a year. Today, the average person consumes 84 items of clothing every year. So, what’s a traditional retailer to do?

Option A: Do Nothing

This was the strategy of Pacific Sunwear (bankrupt), Aeropostale (bankrupt), Wet Seal (bankrupt), American Apparel (bankrupt), and countless other mall stores. They either missed or ignored a seismic shift in the industry, and paid the price. Double down on coupons ! (rolls eyes)  It’s totally going to work with millennials.

Option B: Become a Fast Fashion Company

“If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Right? Maybe. J Crew tried embracing fast fashion 2 years ago and it almost killed them. GAP has had more success. If your driving differentiator was “quality basics”, then you’re in trouble. Also, in a race to the bottom - you better be willing to re-factor your entire production line to get the bottom dollar.

Option C: Provide Additional Value

Rather than putting your head in the sand (Option A) or showing up late to the party (Option B) - concede the battle that you can’t compete on volume with fast fashion. Instead, provide additional value that the fast fashion companies can’t/don’t/won’t. Rather than driving weekly purchasing, stick with your current sustainable cadence of purchasing, and provide engagement and services on a weekly or daily basis. This builds real trust and loyalty—traits that fast fashion really can’t provide with their race to the bottom.

I think this was the motivation behind Walmart’s acquisition of Modcloth, Nordstrom’s acquisition of Trunk Club, and Amazon’s launch of “Outfit Compare.” The secret here is to make sure that whatever services, content, or social media you provide is valuable in and of itself apart from transactions. This is key—if the services are too close to the transactions, you lose the trust and engagement. e.g. True Fit and other “services” that are really sales optimizers.

In conclusion...

The truth is, the market has changed. You’re either fast, or you are quality. Anyone in between will die. For those who have embraced quality, they’ve got to branch out and provide value, entertainment, and services apart from transactions.

I believe that this is the strategy behind Amazon’s Outfit compare, and I think it is sound strategy.

But yes, it still kinda sucks.