Business

Amazon adds clothing store to Canadian offerings

The online retailer launched a new section on its Canadian website on Thursday devoted to clothing and shoes for both men and women.
Amazon.com recently added a section to its website that will sell more than 1 million items of clothing to Canadian shoppers. (Paul Sakuma/Associated Press)

Amazon.ca wants shoppers to say "Yes" to the dress, along with the shoes and the jacket.

The online retailer launched a new section on its Canadian website on Thursday devoted to clothing and shoes for both men and women.

It's the latest move by the Seattle-based retailer to grab a bigger share of the Canadian consumer dollar as it bulks up offerings that already include a wide array of non-perishable grocery items, electronics and housewares.

In the new section, Amazon carries brand names like Levi's, French Connection, Speedo, Timberland and Puma — with 1.5 million new items stocked altogether. Many of the most popular brands are already stocked by Hudson's Bay Co. , which will almost certainly become one of Amazon's biggest competitors in the area.

More fashion lines will be added in the future, said Alexandre Gagnon, country manager of Amazon.ca.

No segment specifically targeted

"Ultimately we want to have the biggest offering possible for our customers, so that list, hopefully, will be constantly evolving and growing," Gagnon said.

Amazon isn't chasing a particular segment of the market either, Gagnon added, unlike the influx of high-end U.S. department store chains like Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue, which are setting up shop in Canada.

"It's less about a specific kind of customer, but rather us having the biggest breadth of selection, the best experience from a delivery standpoint and offering good value for customers."

Amazon's clothing section will stock items shipped from both its distribution centres and through the Amazon Marketplace, a platform integrated into the company's website that lets individuals and small businesses sell and ship their own goods.

The combination of the two platforms could make it confusing for Canadian shoppers at first.

Depending on the specific item, clothing prices can range wildly based on who's selling the item.

For example, an UltraClub Men's Classic short-sleeve shirt was listed on Thursday for between $27 and $106, depending on the size and colour and the seller of the item.

Prices can also fluctuate based on availability, unlike traditional retailers who generally keep a fixed value on clothing items regardless of size and colour.

Competition increasing

Other retailers should be worried about Amazon's dive into the fashion world, partly because they've built a reputation for cutthroat competition, said retail analyst Doug Stephens

"Amazon has the tendency to take really big bets on categories," he said. "They'll wilfully, and sometimes it seems gleefully, lose money just to make a point."

Amazon touts itself as having "Earth's biggest selection" of products. That, along with its low-overhead business model that operates through supply centres, rather than expensive bricks and mortar stores, means it frequently wins price wars.

Other Canadian fashion retailers have been ramping up their online presence in recent months, including both Hudson's Bay and Sears Canada (TSX:SCC), which are giving their websites a facelift in hopes of keeping pace with consumer expectations.

Still, department stores will almost certainly feel the biggest squeeze from Amazon's aggressive discounts.

"They're not as ruthless and competitive in price as Amazon can be and they're not as convenient, so it really leaves them vulnerable," Stephens said.

Amazon "seems to be fully focused on disrupting everybody and putting an awful lot of people out of business."

The web retailer also hopes to vault one of the common hurdles for clothing retailers online: the dreaded hassle of returning clothes through the mail.

Amazon says it will offer free shipping and free returns on eligible items to ease the worry of trying on clothes that don't fit.

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