When I read that Amazon was in talks to partner with big fashion retailers like J. Crew, Abercrombie & Fitch and Neiman Marcus, it got my attention. Despite Amazon’s leadership position in online retail, you typically don’t associate these higher-end clothing retailers with a mainstream site that targets essentially everyone.
If we were talking about a partnership between Amazon and Wal-Mart WMT -0.94% or even Costco, that would be far less surprising because of their parallels in broad customer bases and emphasis on low prices. But rather than partnering, Wal-Mart is making its own investments to level the playing field with Amazon. So why are fancier retailers like Neiman Marcus considering such a partnership? What are the risks? And do these risks outweigh the possible benefits? I think they do.
My latest research* has to do with how people express themselves through the brands they consume. It’s a topic that has interested me for some time.
I grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., the daughter of immigrants in a happy but definitely modest household. I didn’t go to a fancy high school — although, living in New York, I was very aware of fashion and labels. In fact, while riding the subway to school, I was regularly exposed to conspicuous consumption — from Wall Street bankers in their custom suits, to fashionistas who sported the latest styles. I got the distinct impression that “when you got it, you flaunt it.” So when I arrived for my freshman year at Harvard — the ultimate ivory tower and in a way itself a luxury brand — I had some pretty clear expectations of how people would signal their status. I had in mind something like Dan Ackroyd’s country club-going character Winthrop in the movie Trading Places. But what I saw got me thinking about what status signals really mean. Read More »