I hate shopping for clothes. Shopping online means never really knowing if that shirt or those pants will fit. But going into the store means, well, physically going to a mall. It also means awkward moments in a fitting room where I need to get the attention of a clerk to bring me a different size or color. Often I don't even bother, and then go years between buying new pants.
Yet here I was at the Americana at Brand in Glendale, California, the weekend before Christmas, doing a bit of last-minute holiday shopping with my family. Mostly out of curiosity, and some cynicism, I stepped inside Amazon Style, the online retail giant's concept clothing store, and actually found myself having a fun time.
By merging its online shopping experience with a revamped, high-tech fitting room, it made me actually want to spend more time looking at clothes. For once, I didn't feel the awkwardness or rushed anxiety that comes with trying things on in a changing room. This store is just one of two in the world (the other being in Columbus, Ohio), but I hope this is less an experiment and more the way all retailers start to think about their clothes shopping experience.
Amazon's forays in the brick-and-mortar world have been varied and, at times, puzzling. There are the fully automated Amazon Go stores, where you grab an item and automatically get charged when you leave. Amazon also has its own supermarket concept which sits alongside its chain of Whole Foods Markets. Then there were the bookstores and pop-up shops, which the company shuttered this year.
Amazon declined to comment on its plans for the Amazon Style store.
As with Amazon's other stores, the key to the experience lies in its shopping app. At first glance, Amazon Style looks like any other clothing shop, with a few knick-knacks in the front and sections for men's and women's clothing.
But upon closer inspection, there are some subtle differences. Each article of clothing appears once – there are no different sizes. The prices are the same as what you'd pay online, although there are discounts if you spend more. Flanking one side of the store is a row of fitting rooms – with more rooms taking up the entire second floor.
It's those fitting rooms where Amazon Style really sets itself apart. Rather than randomly find an empty room, I use the app to scan a few articles of clothing that I want to try, and tell it that I want to "start a room." An employee then gathered the selections and put them in a fitting room. After about seven minutes, the app notified me that one was ready and directed me to a specific fitting room number, which I unlocked using my app.
Once inside, I saw the various shirts and jackets I scanned hanging on a rack or neatly folded on top of the shelf below. In addition, there were a few extra items added based on what Amazon thought I might like. Curiously, there was a Calvin Klein shirt on top of the pile, a "sponsored item" that was essentially a pop-up ad come to life (I didn't bother to try it on).
On the wall to my right was a large touchscreen that displayed my selections and offered recommendations for other items I might like. I could also request different sizes and styles and have them delivered to my fitting room.
Rather than a store clerk knocking on my door and handing me the clothes, the items are delivered through the closet to the right of the clothes rack. It takes a few minutes, but when the items are ready, the closet door locks and a red light flashes. Inside, the back of the closet opens up, allowing an Amazon Style employee to hang the new clothes. Once the red light goes off, I open the door on my side, and there they are.
The touchscreen and the fitting room take the best parts of the physical shopping experience and the online one and mash them into an effective hybrid. It's so simple, yet removes so much of the hassle from the shopping experience. I came into the store on a whim, but left with a white Adidas jumper.
It actually has me looking forward to the next time I need a new pair of pants. Maybe in 2024?