It’s sale season. Today is the day that you will finally purchase the pastel blazer that you’ve carefully kept in your online cart for the past month. Just as you press the “submit” button, the page loads your worst online nightmare:
Error 404. The page you are looking for no longer exists. Feel free to browse our other available products within Amazon’s Find store.
It must be a mistake. You refresh your browser to no avail. You go back on your browsing history in a desperate effort to locate your precious pastel blazer.
In the meantime, what is Find, and why does your Amazon search seem to be populated with only clothing items from this brand? The answer lies in the web of ungoverned user data collection that has been taken advantage of by technology companies.
As Amazon makes fashion accessible to more potential customers, the reality of how they were able to create the “perfect product” is hard to ignore. On a daily basis, Amazon collects a large volume of user data and buying habits. Since it also sells other brands on its platform, the tech giant is able to monitor and analyze consumer behavior and translate the data into products that can better cater to the consumers’ tastes. Charmaine Garzón, an analyst at Google, validates that “if Amazon were to establish itself as its own brand, then it would in effect have a lot of new data on consumers (like what type of clothes would it’s brand be most known for, whatever it is they would primarily focus on monopolizing or enhancing the quality of that product).”
Once the products are launched, Amazon can also strategically place them within its website to match user browsing records; for example, a search for trench coat that would have returned other fashion brands’ trench coats may now only display Find’s coats—or at least position Find’s merchandise in the top results. The line of consumers’ consent of their data release becomes blurry when tech giants like Amazon are able to use aggregate data to engineer a fool-proof product that they then throw back at the consumer for purchase. Amazon already has an algorithm that scours the internet to locate prices of items that are sold on Amazon, and then it subsequently lowers its own prices to give them the most attractive pricing. Therefore, the case of the disappearing pastel jacket becomes even more interesting. Since the law has not yet caught up with technology, the game remains unchecked. In the future, Garzon thinks that “the next steps would [be that] each company feel[s] pressure to have to find something within their brand to specialize.” Sandra Ofori, project manager at Equinix (a data center company that stores the online information of Amazon, Facebook, and Google), agrees: “where does diversification/ specialization lie if tech conglomerates take over?”
Find also calls into question the way online retailers deal with counterfeiting. eBay and Amazon give an average person the platform to sell and buy whatever they like, but many times, these sites also become platforms for counterfeit suppliers to traffic fake products. Will Amazon now be forced to crack down on accounts that sell fake Chanel and Gucci purses? Will they be finally forced to only sell products from vendors that have been approved by the brand themselves? Or will they only increase scrutiny on how Find is distributed? As Amazon enters the world of fashion, they inherit the problems that heritage brands like LVMH and Kering have been battling for decades.
Ultimately, technology companies claim that their products and platforms exist to make human life easier and simpler. But the cost to access the simplification remains hidden until it really is too late. Would we be equally upset if LVMH (with their $49 billion in revenue in 2017) or Kering ($17 billion dollars in revenue in 2017) decided to launch a new brand? Probably not. The difference between LVMH’s luxury portfolio and Amazon’s Find is that as a top player in the fashion industry, LVMH is governed by anti-trust laws that limit monopolies. This also applies to the cosmetic industry and explains the never-ending competition between industry leaders, Esteé Lauder Companies and L’Oreal Inc. Meanwhile, Amazon is dominating the publishing industry, disrupting the food industry (with their recent $10 billion purchase of Whole Foods), and calmly cruising into the fashion harbor with no checks or balances.
These once seemingly small breed of online institutions have steadily climbed the societal ladder to become forces to be reckoned with. One website that originally started off as a way to sell books online has quickly ballooned into an enterprise that not only sells books, but has extended its reach into the food industry via its purchase of a large grocery store chain. Another online application which started off as a way to rate people has grown into a social network that over one billion people connect to on a daily basis. Then, let’s not forget the kingpin of them all—a platform that handles 40,000 searches every second, totaling to about 3.5 billion searches per day, to become the most used search engine in the world—the so-called owner of the internet.
In the case of technology giants, we’ll need more than a refresh button to reverse the Error 404 that awaits us in the future of tech fashion.
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