Tokyo Fashion Week may now be Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo, but it’s yet to be seen whether the US mass-market e-tailer can successfully become a fashion online shopping destination in Japan.
A year ago, Amazon began its sponsorship of Fashion Week, replacing Mercedes-Benz. This month, the company unveiled a new Tokyo studio specifically for Amazon Fashion. The studio is larger than its counterparts in Brooklyn, Delhi, and London, occupying 80,000 square feet with 11 separate product shooting areas, five movie shooting areas, and two editorial studios.
The development highlights Amazon’s Japan strategy, which focuses on elevating the e-tailer’s fashion-forward image and increasing official brand distribution. This contrasts with the US, where Amazon has invested in launching private-label apparel. Regardless of the success that its private labels Amazon Essentials and Lark & Ro have seen in the US market, Amazon doesn’t officially sell them in Japan.
Despite the size of its ambitions, however, Amazon is far from becoming a fashion destination. By number of users, it’s currently the second-largest e-tailer in Japan following Rakuten. Yet just 18% of fashion brands distribute officially on the platform, according to L2 research conducted in early 2017.
The higher margins from official distribution make it imperative for Amazon to gain trust from cautious Japanese shoppers. To accomplish this, the company needs to deal with fashion brands directly while building a fashion-forward brand image, a strategy on which it’s already demonstrated progress.
Before Amazon’s sponsorship, Tokyo Fashion Week was primarily targeted at the domestic market. In comparison with other fashion weeks in Paris, Milan, New York, and London, few members of the overseas fashion industry visited the event. Japanese designers looking to expose themselves globally tended to choose Paris to present their collections.
However, Amazon’s sponsorship is changing the situation. It came as a surprise to many on the Japanese fashion scene that the 2018 S/S season of Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo featured cult Japanese brands Undercover and Sacai, which had previously shown exclusively in Paris. These discerning, demanding brands would have historically worked with only a very limited number of retailers and media. This season, which started last week, brought four popular domestic niche brands including Ambush and Mame. Association with these attention-grabbing brands offers a way for Amazon to give its brand a more fashion-forward feel.
Amazon also celebrated the photo studio opening with top local fashion magazine editors just before Mame had a fashion show at the studio. These efforts led to fashion media coverage and buzz on local influencers’ social media accounts.
Along with the fashion week sponsorship, Amazon launched a special page, Amazon Fashion “AT TOKYO,” offering curated brands showing at Fashion Week alongside rich editorial content. Ambush is one of the brands featured there, paired with attention-grabbing editorial photos. However, buyers’ interactions with the page seem to reflect Amazon’s challenges in the market, as there are no product reviews yet.
The tricky challenge of translating excitement or buzz to the bottom line isn’t limited to Amazon. But considering how underdeveloped fashion e-tailer portals are in Japan compared with the US or UK, and the fact that only a few competitive players have the capability to enter the industry in a large-scale way, Amazon should have the opportunity to improve its position in the Japanese fashion market.