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The Information has a story about Amazon's decision to shut down its two Style clothing stores - one in Los Angeles, the other in Columbus, Ohio - less than two years after they opened.

The stores' premise had items and outfits displayed, with customers using their smartphones to identify what they wanted to try on;  products in their size would then be delivered to a dressing room, where the customer could use a tablet-style computer to ask for different sizes, colors and styles to try on.   Purchases could then be made via smartphone.

According to the story, "The idea was to keep the benefits of in-store shopping, where people can browse and try on clothes, while adding technology that would excite young shoppers and let Amazon display a greater variety of items in a smaller space. But the design left many customers more confused than impressed. And instead of cutting down the need for human staffers, the technology simply shifted the work to behind-the-scenes store staffers and stylists who trained algorithms to pick out outfits.

"The failure of Amazon Style is all the more jarring given Amazon’s dominance in online apparel and footwear selling, which according to analyst estimates propelled it to the top spot among all apparel retailers during the pandemic. But taken alongside Amazon’s closures last year of its physical bookstores and 4-Star variety stores - which stocked items that were already popular on its website - the latest closure shows how difficult it is to translate success on the internet into the shopping mall."

Amazon's ambitions for the Style stores were considerable:  They talked about opening hundreds of stores, and selling the technology to rivals.

Forrester retail analyst Sucharita Kodali identifies the problem this way:  “If you have great clothes and layer technology on it, then it can be effective.  If all you have is the technology, that’s not enough when people are there to buy clothes.”

KC's View:

Kodali nailed it.  Boom!  Drop  the mic.

This has been the problem with much of Amazon's physical store development - the focus has been on technology, with the idea being that the retail categories serve the tech, as opposed to the other way around.

Amazon says that now it is going to put all of its bricks-and-mortar energies into grocery, and now plans to scale back its technological innovations in favor of a more traditional shopping experience.

Here's what I would say.  We have plenty of traditional food shopping experiences.  What Amazon has to bring to the table is some sort of unique take on what the food shopping experience can be and how it can make it easier for shoppers to buy stuff.  The tech has to serve that vision, but there needs to be a differentiated vision.