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How Echo Look could feed Amazon’s big data fueled fashion ambitions

This week Amazon took the wraps off a new incarnation of its Alexa voice assistant, giving the AI an eye so it can see as well as speak and hear. The Echo Look also contains a depth sensor that’s being used, in the first instance, to create a bokeh effect for a hands-free style selfies feature that Amazon is hoping will sell the device to fashion lovers, by making their outfits pop out against the bedroom wallpaper, and making them more eager to socially share.

The Echo Look app is where users can view the style selfies (and videos) they’ve asked Alexa to record for them (she indefinitely stores a copy for Amazon too). But the flagship feature of the app is a fashion feedback service, called Style Check, which Amazon says will utilize machine learning to rate fashion choices and help users choose between outfit pairs. And ultimately, presumably, give their entire wardrobe a score. Albeit, the feature is using (human) stylists too, at least for now, to help train what Amazon surely hopes will be entirely robotic style recommendations down the line.

The app will also suggest clothes for users to buy based on their style selections — opening up another revenue stream for Amazon, and one that could prove pretty sticky if Echo Look delivers on its promise of furnishing users with a personal stylist whose killer feature is the ability to shop tirelessly on your behalf. This new voice-controlled, Internet connected Echo camera is designed to condition users to feed it with the training data Amazon needs to build a fashion savvy AI. As data grabs go, it’s exceedingly well dressed.

As I wrote in July 2015, adding a camera to Echo makes perfect sense for Bezos’ massive fashion ambitions. With an eye to see you, Echo Look promises to contain your self-image better than a mirror by claiming to know which of your outfits is the fairest of them all. Fashion is often sold as something feel good and confidence building — a way to belong and blend in within a peer-group. But equally style can be deliberately different; the essence of individual self expression. So whether there’s an AI that can usefully cater to all those different facets remains to be seen. But for many shoppers the primary desire they have for the clothes they wear can be boiled down to looking good. So Amazon is positioning Alexa to sell that hope as a service.

Buying clothes is a recurring need; both a practical necessity and a way to keep up with changes in style and taste. Like buying groceries, it’s a type of shopping without end. Which is why Amazon is fixated on both spaces. “In order to be a $200bn company we’ve got to learn how to sell clothes and food,” Jeff Bezos said as long ago as a decade — displaying the long term thinking that has enabled the ecommerce giant to slow-grow its business over more than 20 years from an upstart online bookseller into today’s sprawling digital marketplace whose upwardly thrusting arrow declaims its mission to deliver everything.

From household staples to fashion destination? 

Amazon Prime is the membership club that sells a subscription to convince people to lock themselves in to buying more and more from Amazon. Notably, a recent addition to the Prime perk list is an Amazon own brand men’s dress shirt brand, called Buttoned Down. Here the company is selling wardrobe staples that, if they bore a different label, would cost a whole lot more.

And while a fairly uniform garment like a dress shirt can make an easy recurring purchase, i.e. once you’ve figured out which size fits you, a lot of fashion is intentionally far less predictable. Meaning there’s a much greater need for style-related try ons. Female fashion especially falls into this category — hence Amazon heavily focusing the marketing for Echo Look on women…