Amazon’s new app-based physical clothing store turns retail workers into warehouse gophers

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From the bitchy shop girls in A pretty woman to the bitches of the shop Revenge of a Blonde, vendors tasked with helping you shop for clothes get a bad rap. But even Elle Woods — who knows the value of telling someone about a truly obnoxious angora sweater — might not be thrilled with Amazon’s latest retail concept that dramatically downplays the role of human associates.

On Friday, Amazon announced the opening of a new brick-and-mortar clothing store in the Los Angeles area called Amazon Style. The concept is basically that it combines physical shopping with an app-based experience.

The first Amazon Style will be a 30,000 square foot space at the Americana at Brand Mall – An outdoor mall that embodies the capitalist hell it inspired so much a same account with the same name. Amazon is in fact already a tenant of Americana with its 4 Star Amazon Store, so Jeff Bezos is apparently doubling his mall real estate footprint with Amazon Style.

When you enter the store, you open the Amazon Shopping app. The store will only have samples of the clothes available, so if you see something you like, you scan the item’s QR code. This will allow you to select the size or other details on your phone, and send the item to a fitting room where all the clothes you have chosen will be waiting for you.

This theoretically solves a few problems. The first is to search through a clothes rack to find (or not find) your size. It also eliminates the slightly boring experience of walking into a store and loading your arms with clothes to try on.

When you arrive at the changing rooms, you will enter the queue on your phone and a room will be prepared for you. Inside, a screen will welcome you by name. It’s sort of the digital equivalent of when hippy-chic Anthropologie employees chalked your name on your dressing room door, so associates could look after you by name – which certainly makes me feel so special.

Amazon robots are here to help.
Credit: Amazon, Inc.

You will also be able to continue shopping for clothes on this screen and request other sizes. This could eliminate some of the shopping annoyance, when you have to wait for someone to pick you up a size larger or smaller.

A corporate executive described the changing room experience at Reuters like a “magic closet”. But it’s really not magic – your clothes show up thanks to Amazon employees who will likely see what you ordered, pick up those items from the store’s warehouse, and deliver them to the changing rooms. A truly “magical” process! If you don’t think about the human worker behind it all.

This is, of course, what Amazon does best: using unseen human labor to power shopping experiences designed to make spending as easy as possible. Those human interactions with store employees that can be helpful or uncomfortably pushy? Useless. The expertise of a human recommendation? Imprecise, consumable. Amazon Style essentially simplifies in-person shopping by making it recommendation-based and only using human labor for jobs it hasn’t yet figured out how to get a robot to do.

Amazon of course says retail employees will play an important role in the Amazon Style shopping experience and notes that “hundreds” of employees will work in the store. So while humans may not be the go-to source for clothing recommendations, Amazon assures us that they will still be very important.

“Amazon Style’s personalized shopping experience wouldn’t be possible without our employees who are dedicated to helping customers find the looks they love and feel good in,” an Amazon representative said. by email. “The store will employ hundreds of staff to provide customer service, deliver items to dressing room closets, market the store to inspire discovery, assist customers at checkout, manage back-end operations, And much more.”

Amazon Styles store entrance displays several "looks" selected by influencers.

Robot, do me that jerk, stat!
Credit: Amazon, Inc.

It might be unfair to view this app-centric experience as a loss of the retail human touch that can help you find items you love, and more than that, maybe even a real human connection that leaves both parties feeling fulfilled. That’s because instead of the more convenient experience you get at a high-end department store like Nordstrom, going to Amazon Style might be closer to going to an Old Navy or other big-box store. Associates in places like these are usually too stretched, in too chaotic an environment, with paychecks that pay them too little, to provide that hands-on experience. It’s no wonder these kinds of jobs are so hard to fill these days – and why Amazon might outsource these tasks to robots, not humans. Maybe Amazon Style can give people who wouldn’t typically get that personalized shopping experience some of that same sense of being treated and seen.

But the decision to replace or at least supplement retail associates with algorithmic recommendations and reduce the amount of human interaction in physical shopping is a bit sad. Perhaps the glamor of store girl work has long since faded. But I’m not sure an app telling me I’d look great in that top would give me the confidence boost that’s part of the fun of in-person shopping. But I guess it’s also consumable.


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