Amazon’s appointment of former Marks & Spencer director Frances Russell signals its intent to become a dominant force in the UK fashion industry, commentators have said, as the etailer begins rolling out private label brands in the US.
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Drapers understands Russell’s role will include spearheading the launch of an own-label business for the online retailer and she is expected to start in mid March. Amazon has already quietly introduced seven private label fashion brands in the US.
“Taking on Frances Russell tells you something: she is a real fashion retailer with years of experience, she knows product, knows the industry and what customers want,” said independent retail analyst Richard Hyman.
Russell headed M&S’s lingerie and beauty division for four years and latterly the womenswear division for three, but left in August 2015 amid a management shake-up. She was previously brand director of Burton and Evans at Arcadia Group.
Research firm Verdict forecasts Amazon will have a UK clothing market share of just 0.6% this year, but Hyman said: “There is no question that Amazon will be a significant player in fashion – it is just a question of how big and the time frame.”
Retail analyst Nick Bubb said one of the challenges the etailer faces is gaining awareness for its fashion offer.
“The range on the website is certainly impressive, with plenty of decent brands, but I guess the problem is finding it on such a huge site and getting “cut-through” with consumers, as Amazon is obviously much better known for books, DVDs and electricals,” he said.
“But although the competition is much stronger in online clothing, it’s only a matter of time before Amazon make inroads, given its massive distribution and logistics expertise. Whether adding an own-label range will help is another matter.”
It is not clear yet whether the private label offer will be managed separately to Amazon’s US business. More than 1,800 SKUs from seven private label brands are available on its US website, including men’s formal line Franklin Tailored, women’s casual clothing line James & Erin and contemporary womenswear brand Lark & Ro, first highlighted by US investment bank KeyBanc.
Prices for Franklin Tailored range from $23.97 (£17.08) for a silk tie to $465 (£331.38) for a wool two-piece suit, James & Erin from $14.95 (£10.67) for a classic plaid shirt to $91.97 (£65.55) for a cashmere sweater, and Lark & Ro from $5.90 (£4.20) for T-shirts, rising to $105.90 (£75.47) for a brushed wool cocoon coat.
A source close to the situation said Russell’s first task will be assembling a team and defining its offer, as “you only get a couple of chances to get it right”.
“Obviously Amazon is not known for its fashion, but then supermarkets weren’t 20 years ago,” the source said. “It is a big opportunity.”
“Amazon has a blueprint [from its US business], a name to run it, access to current design and it knows customer is less label conscious and more interested in style,” said ecommerce consultant Kristine Kirby.
“Fulfilment is why people will go to Amazon. If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you’ll get free next day delivery. Everything is about this last mile: it’s not sexy but it’s where things will be won or lost.
“It is on track to become one of the top fashion retailers in the world.”
In a bid to raise awareness with social media-savvy consumers, Amazon Fashion appointed founder of fashion blog TheBlondeSalad.com Chiara Ferragni as its European brand ambassador for spring 16.
Ferragni, who boasts 5.5 million followers on Instagram, shot the advertising campaign at Amazon’s European fashion photography studio in Shoreditch, east London, which opened last year. It features contemporary brands such as Gestuz, Selected Femme and Keepsake, and will launch on March 8.