SHEER DISRUPTION

Amazon’s exclusive deal with Calvin Klein is about much more than underwear

For the first time, Calvin Klein is bypassing department stores to sell its newest underwear exclusively on Amazon this holiday season, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The undergarment styles, which include cotton bralettes and striped panties, will be available on Amazon.com and in pop-up shops in New York and Los Angeles, from Nov. 16 through Dec. 31. Department stores won’t get any of that merchandise until January. From the Journal:

Customers who visit the pop-up shops can purchase items through Amazon’s mobile app. The dressing rooms will feature Amazon Echo devices that can answer questions about the merchandise, control the lighting and play music. Shoppers at the pop-up stores will be able to customize their purchases with embroidery.

Of course, this isn’t just about Calvin Klein underwear. In 2017, Amazon put traditional brick-and-mortar retailers on notice that it wasn’t just coming for them online. It planned to “disrupt”—as they say in tech—the offline shopping experience, too.

Physical stores were a large part of why Amazon bought Whole Foods for $13.7 billion. As chief financial officer Brian Olsavsky detailed on Amazon’s most recent earnings call in October, those stores will be the connective tissue for Amazon online and offline. They will house Amazon Lockers, where customers can receive deliveries and drop off returns, and be hubs for Prime Now and AmazonFresh, Amazon’s same-day and grocery delivery services.

“There’ll be a lot of integration, a lot of touch points and a lot of working together as we go forward,” Olsavsky said.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s automated convenience store project, Amazon Go, is nearing completion. Bloomberg reported yesterday that Amazon had started hiring construction managers and marketers for the stores after resolving many of the technical bugs that postponed its launch earlier this year.

An unnamed source told Bloomberg that Amazon Go’s “just walk out” technology, which eliminates the need for a check out by using cameras and shelf sensors to charge customers’ Amazon accounts as they shop, has improved significantly in recent months. For example, the technology reportedly charged three Amazon employees correctly even when they attempted to trick it by roaming the Seattle test store in bright yellow Pikachu costumes.

Amazon is also striking deals with traditional retailers, which are on track to close more stores this year than during the financial crisis, thanks in no small part to Amazon. The company partnered with Kohl’s in September to let customers drop off their Amazon returns at 82 Kohl’s stores in the Chicago and Los Angeles areas, which will pack and ship the merchandise for free.

Calvin Klein is just one more brand, one more experiment. Holiday pop-up stores are a perfect chance for Amazon, after years of selling things almost exclusively online, to tinker with the offline experience and to test out the sales skills of Alexa, its voice-enabled personal assistant. Having exclusive merchandise makes it an even better testing ground as Amazon builds out its own collection of private-label products.

Department stores, already behind, may never catch up.

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