Every week, The Interline rounds up the most vital and interesting talking points from across the fashion technology landscape. We provide our take on what matters, and why. Soon we will deliver this roundup to Interline Insiders by email, every Friday.
Amazon’s push into physical retail happens sooner than expected… but not quite how we expected.
Last week, we wrote that Amazon – inarguably the biggest force in online retail – was in a unique (and unfair) position to parley its pilot Amazon Go and Amazon Grocery “cashier-less” experiments into a much harder push into physical retail. In that piece, we said we expected to see the Seattle giant making its presence felt on the high street soon. We didn’t mean this soon.
On Wednesday, Amazon revealed that its cashier-less technology suite – which encompasses a phalanx of cameras and embedded sensors, invigilated by a computer vision neural net – will be branded as “Just Walk Out” and will be sold to and implemented by other retailers. The first of these is airport retailer OTG, which operates restaurants and retail outlets in airports across North America, and which will deploy the system… next week.
First things first: that’s a lot sooner than these things tend to happen. This is a level of technology that The Interline saw exhibited at NRF 2019 in prototype form. And yes, Amazon has run a proof of concept for the last year or two, but in a vanishingly small number of locations. The leap from “Amazon just messing around” to “Amazon becoming a viable retail technology player” has been made in record time.
The retailers in the audience might be breathing a sigh of relief, thinking that Amazon’s retail ambitions have shifted to technology provision. But The Interline believes that, if anything, this latest development is even more worrying.
Instead of just considering a world where Amazon has a high street presence as either a private label brand owner or a physical marketplace, consider that same world, except Amazon also has a monopoly on POS and in-store surveillance systems.
But all is not well for Amazon’s fashion ambitions, as luxury weighs up the tech platforms it will – and won’t – engage with.
Amazon’s impact on mass market fashion has been undeniable, but luxury is a notoriously difficult market for any retailer or marketplace to enter. Aside from Net A Porter, Farfetch and a handful of others, luxury brands have been reticent to engage with online platforms, fearing a loss of brand control compared to their direct-to-consumer channels.
This does not seem to be a barrier that Amazon can breach with technology. First spoken about earlier this year, Amazon’s online luxury marketplace – which the company ploughed a possible $100 million into marketing – has seen slow traction among premium brands, with reportedly fewer than 15 brands being willing to support it.
This analysis came at the same time as statistics suggesting that luxury brands are not shunning new online platforms entirely, though – primarily because they cannot afford to. To combat a tide of counterfeit products, high-end brands are strengthening their presence on the video-sharing service TikTok, where they also hope to reach a new demographic.
Is it news to you that you can shop on TikTok? Join the club. But don’t feel too old: the commerce side of the service only went into limited roll-out in November.
Google continues the glacial roll-out of Project Jacquard-enabled products.
After making headlines with its connected Levis trucker jacket in 2017, Google’s Project Jacquard wearables initiative has been fairly quiet. The embeddable sensor system found its way into some backpacks from YSL late last year, but aside from those two small-scale projects, news has been thin on the ground.
This week, Adidas revealed that Jacquard tags were now purchasable as the centrepiece of the GMR PACK: special smart in-soles for football (soccer) boots that track distance covered, balls shot and passed, and other performance metrics and then translate these into in-game rewards for FIFA Mobile.
This is not what The Interline would describe as the most elegant embedding of sensors into a garment or piece of footwear, but the vote of confidence from Adidas – especially allying the Jacquard-powered insoles to the best-selling sports videogame series in the world – suggests that we may see more in the way of “smart” garments powered by Google in the near future.
Coronavirus continues to change the world.
While the public health crisis is undoubtedly still affecting fashion – Georgio Armani himself has pledged $1.5 million this week to fight it, and the Met Gala, home of the most outré outfits, looks to be the latest event to be eyed for cancellation – its larger impact is likely to only be felt in future months, when the world begins to reckon with what it really means to be able to work from anywhere, and consequently why we insist on gathering in the same places so often.
The Interline has a feature on precisely this coming early next week, looking at the psychological impact of the coronavirus on the world stage, and the diminishing likelihood that things will ever go back to the way they were before.