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‘Hi-tech’, underwhelming: Amazon’s IRL clothing store misses the point of shopping | Amazon

Outside Amazon’s first in-person clothing store in California, Diemmi Le, 22, summed up her experience: “You don’t have to talk to anybody.”

For years, Amazon tried – and ultimately failed – to translate its online book business into successful brick and mortar bookstores. Dozens of stores were shuttered this spring. Now, the online shopping giant is trying again, this time attempting to reinvent the mall clothing store.

During the pandemic, Amazon pushed past Walmart to become the number one clothing retailer in the US, analysts from Wells Fargo concluded last year. The company is billing its new store as an ambitious fusion of its online shopping algorithm with an in-person shopping experience.

The first Amazon Style store, which opened in Glendale, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, in May, allows customers to use a smartphone app to send clothes directly to their fitting rooms, rather than carrying them around, and offers additional clothing recommendations from the company’s algorithms.

Clad in company lanyards, employees at the front of the store greet customers and offer help navigating the smartphone app and the store’s free WiFi and phone chargers. And there are plenty of other Amazon employees at work behind the scenes, swiftly delivering new outfit picks to the “magic closet” in each dressing room.

Clothes are displayed on white grids in a brightly lit store. A sign reads 'Looks designed and inspired by top influencers'.
Amazon opened its first physical clothing store, Amazon Style, in a shopping mall in Glendale, California. Photograph: Greg Montijo/AP

But the store is designed to make many of its staff invisible: customers can use a dressing room touchscreen to summon a pair of pants in a different size, or a shirt in a different color, without having to see or speak to another human being.

“It’s something new, something you’ve never seen before. It’s an experience, rather than just a regular store,” said Marshall Sanders, 28.

‘Hi-tech’, but limited

In person, Amazon Style feels a bit like what someone in the 1990s might have imagined “hi-tech” shopping would look like in 2020.

The store features a mix of known and even high-end brands, such as Levi’s, Vince and Theory, with the more obscure brands and cheap in-house clothing lines that Amazon customers are used to finding on the website. There are racks of $200 or $300 blouses in a “premium” section, but more racks of cheaply made T-shirts in trendy prints and sack-like floral dresses.

Scan a summery floral Rebecca Taylor dress, which was offered for the discounted price of $276.50, and under “related items”, Amazon’s shopping app might recommend a floral dress in a similar color for $41.25.

Several customers shopping at the Glendale store said the retail store’s selection was limited, and didn’t live up to the experience of shopping on Amazon’s online marketplace.

Dana Roo and Diana Guerrero, both 25, had come from the west side of Los Angeles and San Diego specifically to check out the new Amazon store, but were disappointed by the lack of bargains they enjoy online. For them, Amazon was a place to find good “dupes” of higher-end clothes, like Ugg’s fuzzy lounge sets, Roo said. The brick-and-mortar store was offering only original sets.

A row of fitting rooms inside Amazon Style where all the doors are made of light colored wood.
Dressing rooms in Amazon Style unlock using an app on a smartphone and are already filled with a customers’ selected clothing. Photograph: Courtesy of Amazon

The store’s clothing options are organized thematically, in sections with names such as “rustic grace”, “feminine strength”, “Y2k”, and, more pragmatically, “night out tops under $35”. The app sends an alert when the dressing room is ready, and the phone unlocks the dressing room door.

The dressing rooms are bright and clean, with a glowing lightstrip around the mirror and a message welcoming them by name on a touchscreen. Details about the customers’ selected clothes are on the screen, as well as a list of new clothing picks, including recommendations for matching tops, shoes and bags to “finish the look”.

Swiping through outfit options on a touch screen is an experience straight out of Clueless, though it remains to be seen whether Amazon’s algorithm will create Cher-inspired looks.

The main gimmick of Amazon Style is what one corporate director has called the “magic closet” in the fitting rooms. Close the door on the empty closet, press a few buttons on the touchscreen, and wait. A warning light will glow red, there will be some rustlings in the closet and then a sudden glow of light around the door: open it, and the clothes requested are there.

A touch screen inside a dressing room reads 'Welcome to your room, Serena' as a hand prepares to tap the 'get started' button.
Inside the dressing rooms, a touch screen offers details on the clothing or suggests other options. Photograph: Courtesy of Amazon

Amazon makes sure to keep the workers who fill its new magic closets out of sight: the “closet” door locks from the fitting room side when employees are at work in the closet, for shoppers’ privacy, according to a sign in the dressing room. The closet’s back door, to the employee side, is also locked from the inside.

Amazon touts that its quick clothing delivery is made possible through the “advanced technologies and processes used in Amazon fulfillment centers,” which have also made headlines for years for grueling working conditions and high injury rates. So far, Amazon has not let the public see what is happening in the rooms on the other side of its “magic closets”.

An Amazon press spokesperson declined a request for a behind-the-scenes tour. Asked about working conditions behind the scenes at Amazon Style, the company touted what it called its competitive pay and good benefits, and said that the store’s employees have the ability to try different roles throughout the store.

The human element

When Amazon announced its new clothing store concept in January, ahead of the store’s official launch, some critics saw it as an attempt to make human sales associates obsolete.

Many big box clothing stores are understaffed, and their employees stretched too thin to provide many personal recommendations, Rachel Kraus wrote in Mashable, which meant that Amazon’s algorithmic shopping could be a better option for some customers. At the same time, Kraus argued, “I’m not sure an app telling me I’d look great in this top would give me the confidence boost that’s all part of the fun of in-person shopping.”

In a statement, Amazon said that its front-of-store employees, who provide customers with human recommendations and assistance, were essential to the Amazon Style experience, and would continue to be part of the store’s operations, even as customers grew more accustomed to using the shopping app.

Clothes are displayed on racks and on mannequins inside a white, brightly lit clothing store.
Humans are essential to the Amazon Style experience, the company said. Photograph: Courtesy of Amazon

The Glendale store currently employs hundreds of people, many of them with previous experience in the clothing industry, Amazon said. Because employees at the front of the store did not have to spend time restocking sizes on the floor, it suggested, employees would have more time to interact with customers and provide recommendations.

Customers who had browsed inside the new California store this month praised the friendly front-of-store employees, though many were divided on whether they liked the overall concept: some said they found it “really cool” and innovative, others the experience was overwhelming, and some said the in-store clothing selection was underwhelming compared with what they could find online.

Sanders, the 28-year-old, had not been a huge Amazon shopper previously, but said he planned to encourage his friends to try the store.

Inside his fitting room, Amazon’s algorithm offered Sanders items similar to what he had already picked – “two expensive things and two cheaper things” – and he ended up purchasing one of them, he said, without even realizing he had done so.

Le said the “anti-social” aspect of the store appealed to her, but wasn’t a big fan of the quality of Amazon’s clothes. And she saw deeper problems: the store’s “cool concept” was also “classist” and “causes a lot of disparities”, since people without smartphones would not be able to shop.

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Culture

Top 10 Florida Cities Dominate The Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

Top 10 Florida Cities And Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

The Voice Of EU | Florida emerges as a hub for entrepreneurial endeavors, with its vibrant business landscape and conducive environment for startups. Renowned for its low corporate tax rates and a high concentration of investors, the Sunshine State beckons aspiring entrepreneurs seeking fertile grounds to launch and grow their businesses.

In a recent report by WalletHub, Florida cities dominate the list of the top 10 best destinations for business startups, showcasing their resilience and economic vitality amidst challenging times.

From Orlando’s thriving market to Miami’s dynamic ecosystem, each city offers unique advantages and opportunities for entrepreneurial success. Let’s delve into the chronologically listed cities that exemplify Florida’s prominence in the business startup arena.

1. Orlando Leads the Way: Orlando emerges as the most attractive market in the U.S. for business startups, with a remarkable surge in small business establishments. WalletHub’s latest report highlights Orlando’s robust ecosystem, fostering the survival and growth of startups, buoyed by a high concentration of investors per capita.

2. Tampa Takes Second Place: Securing the second spot among large cities for business startups, Tampa boasts a favorable business environment attributed to its low corporate tax rates. The city’s ample investor presence further fortifies startups, providing essential resources for navigating the initial years of business operations.

3. Charlotte’s Diverse Industries: Claiming the third position, Charlotte stands out for its diverse industrial landscape and exceptionally low corporate taxes, enticing companies to reinvest capital. This conducive environment propels entrepreneurial endeavors, contributing to sustained economic growth.

4. Jacksonville’s Rising Profile: Jacksonville emerges as a promising destination for startups, bolstered by its favorable business climate. The city’s strategic positioning fosters entrepreneurial ventures, attracting aspiring business owners seeking growth opportunities.

5. Miami’s Entrepreneurial Hub: Miami solidifies its position as a thriving entrepreneurial hub, attracting businesses with its dynamic ecosystem and strategic location. The city’s vibrant startup culture and supportive infrastructure make it an appealing destination for ventures of all sizes.

6. Atlanta’s Economic Momentum: Atlanta’s ascent in the business startup landscape underscores its economic momentum and favorable business conditions. The city’s strategic advantages and conducive policies provide a fertile ground for entrepreneurial ventures to flourish.

7. Fort Worth’s Business-Friendly Environment: Fort Worth emerges as a prime destination for startups, offering a business-friendly environment characterized by low corporate taxes. The city’s supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives facilitate the growth and success of new ventures.

8. Austin’s Innovation Hub: Austin cements its status as an innovation hub, attracting startups with its vibrant entrepreneurial community and progressive policies. The city’s robust infrastructure and access to capital foster a conducive environment for business growth and innovation.

9. Durham’s Emerging Entrepreneurship Scene: Durham’s burgeoning entrepreneurship scene positions it as a promising destination for startups, fueled by its supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives. The city’s collaborative culture and access to resources contribute to the success of new ventures.

10. St. Petersburg’s Thriving Business Community: St. Petersburg rounds off the top 10 with its thriving business community and supportive ecosystem for startups. The city’s strategic advantages and favorable business climate make it an attractive destination for entrepreneurial endeavors.

Despite unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Great Resignation, and high inflation, these top Florida cities remain resilient and well-equipped to overcome obstacles, offering promising opportunities for business owners and entrepreneurs alike.


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Culture

European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.


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China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending ‘Taikonauts’ To The Moon From 2030 Onwards

China Reveals Lunar Mission

The Voice Of EU | In a bold stride towards lunar exploration, the Chinese Space Agency has unveiled its ambitious plans for a moon landing set to unfold in the 2030s. While exact timelines remain uncertain, this endeavor signals a potential resurgence of the historic space race reminiscent of the 1960s rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

China’s recent strides in lunar exploration include the deployment of three devices on the moon’s surface, coupled with the successful launch of the Queqiao-2 satellite. This satellite serves as a crucial communication link, bolstering connectivity between Earth and forthcoming missions to the moon’s far side and south pole.

Unlike the secretive approach of the Soviet Union in the past, China’s strategy leans towards transparency, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the finer details. Recent revelations showcase the naming and models of lunar spacecraft, steeped in cultural significance. The Mengzhou, translating to “dream ship,” will ferry three astronauts to and from the moon, while the Lanyue, meaning “embrace the moon,” will descend to the lunar surface.

Drawing inspiration from both Russian and American precedents, China’s lunar endeavor presents a novel approach. Unlike its predecessors, China will employ separate launches for the manned module and lunar lander due to the absence of colossal space shuttles. This modular approach bears semblance to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, reflecting a contemporary adaptation of past achievements.

Upon reaching lunar orbit, astronauts, known as “taikonauts” in Chinese, will rendezvous with the lunar lander, reminiscent of the Apollo program’s maneuvers. However, distinct engineering choices mark China’s departure from traditional lunar landing methods.

The Chinese lunar lander, while reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Module, introduces novel features such as a single set of engines and potential reusability and advance technology. Unlike past missions where lunar modules were discarded, China’s design hints at the possibility of refueling and reuse, opening avenues for sustained lunar exploration.

China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending 'Taikonauts' To The Moon From 2030 Onwards
A re-creation of the two Chinese spacecraft that will put ‘taikonauts’ on the moon.CSM

Despite these advancements, experts have flagged potential weaknesses, particularly regarding engine protection during landing. Nevertheless, China’s lunar aspirations remain steadfast, with plans for extensive testing and site selection underway.

Beyond planting flags and collecting rocks, China envisions establishing a permanent lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), ushering in a new era of international collaboration in space exploration.

While the Artemis agreements spearheaded by NASA have garnered global support, China’s lunar ambitions stand as a formidable contender in shaping the future of space exploration. In conclusion, China’s unveiling of its lunar ambitions not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also sets the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s quest for the cosmos. As nations vie for supremacy in space, collaboration and innovation emerge as the cornerstones of future lunar endeavors.


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