Amazon Is Looking to Upgrade from the Walmart to the Target of Online Shopping

Amazon already has its hand in the online clothing shopping game, with the flash sale site and its shoe version, but The New York Times's Stephanie Clifford tells us today that the "Walmart of online shopping" wants to go high end. 

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Amazon already has its hand in the online clothing shopping game, with the flash sale site and its shoe version, but The New York Times's Stephanie Clifford tells us today that the "Walmart of online shopping" has decided to go high end. Amazon has gotten the Walmart comparison, providing everyone one needs, at low prices. It also, like Walmart, has killed retail competition, putting stores like Borders and Best Buy out of business. Also, like Walmart, when looking for a discount, people head to Amazon. But, also, also like Walmart, that means it has certain associations with a low-end market -- it's not exactly the type of place one goes to buy their finest goods. Would you buy a $1,390 dress at Walmart? Or even a $369 dress? So why would you at Amazon? Nevertheless, Amazon is making a bunch of investments that it hopes will get it out of the Walmart zone and into the Target area, a place where people buy stuff from high-end designers, as long as the prices are discounted.

As of now, Amazon's clothing sites work like other luxury flash-sale sites such as Gilt Group. The site offers a designer's line of products at a deep discount for a set amount of time. Right now there's a Derek Lam deal going on through Saturday, which has thousand dollar items selling for under $500. Though the site, which launched one year ago, has the same basic premise of Gilt, it hasn't seen the same success. And it sounds like it has something to do with its Walmart-esque feel. "Many brands stayed away because they said Amazon’s site often looked too commoditized," writes Clifford. "It’s not a place where you look at it and are like, ‘Oh, my clothes look and feel really good,’" Andy Dunn, founder of the men’s fashion brand Bonobos, which does not sell through Amazon, told Clifford. Heading over the, Amazon's Internet shoe-store, the offerings, against a plain white background stacked in rows, look intensely unappealing; the flip-flop selection on Gilt-group looks more appealing.

As Clifford details, Amazon has put money into fancifying its retail efforts, investing in photography, web design, and hiring. It now has employees just to try on shoes, so the site can have accurate, shopper-friendly advice next to its wares. It has also hired models, sylists and makeup artists and has a host of other stylist positions listed on its careers page.

All of this is to make customers associate Amazon with fashion, rather than discount, all while offering the same Amazon deals customers expect from the Walmart of e-commerce. We've already seen some improvements, with the MyHabit site looking more fashionable than Essentials -- the models even spin, showing customers how an item lies on a human, albeit a very skinny one. Yet, the site still offers free shipping and as of now, big discounts. Though, that pricing might change, too, as Amazon looks to lure more fashion designers, who don't like the idea of killing their brand with super-cut price-tags. "Mr. Bezos said the company was making a “significant” investment in fashion to convince top brands that it wanted to work with them, not against them," writes Clifford. Amazon has recently signed on Michael Kors, Vivienne Westwood, Catherine Malandrino, Jack Spade and Tracy Reese.

With the improved site and better brands, this sounds more like Target, which sells low-priced lines of high end fashion designers like Missoni, or even a higher end department store that carries high-end brands, than Walmart. And if you're trying to sell expensive brands, these are better associations to have than Walmart. Target's model doesn't work exactly like Amazon, as these designers make a specific Target line. But people have no problem spending a little extra on a Missoni for Target dress, even if it costs a bit more than the rest of their clothing. Last year's deal broke the site. Even celebs like Jessica Alba and Jessica Simpson wanted it. Amazon too wants to be a place both for fashion and discounts.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.