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What the ‘Amazon Coat’ Reveals About the Future of Shopping

Decoding the style, price and positioning of this season’s most viral piece of outerwear.
Image: Amazon. Collage by BoF.
By
  • Elizabeth Holmes

NEW YORK, United States — Last year, Jaynèe Mitchell, a health and fitness coach in New York, eyed a puffer jacket that one of her clients on the Upper East Side was wearing. It was olive green with an orange lining, a distinctive shape and had plenty of pockets. She wondered if it was in the same price range as a Canada Goose? Moncler?

The woman told her she bought it on Amazon, for around $100.

"I was like, 'REALLY?! Oh my god, I'm going on Prime right now,'" Mitchell recalled, her enthusiasm not dampened many months later. "I ordered it in two minutes." She texted her sister in New Jersey, who also bought it. And her friend in California, who needed a winter jacket for a trip to Lake Tahoe. Mitchell posted a photo wearing it on her Instagram account for her 1,500 followers, which was then reposted by an account dedicated to the jacket, @TheAmazonCoat, which now has more than 1,900 followers. On a typical work day, around uptown Manhattan, Mitchell said she sees at least two dozen women wearing it.

Welcome to the winter of the Amazon Coat, a singular piece of outerwear that has gone viral. What began in New York has become a phenomenon, spreading throughout the country and into Europe, fuelled in no small part by extensive media coverage. Owners of the coat are ready and willing to gush about their purchase, and report knowing head nods and sly smiles when they encounter strangers in the style. @TheAmazonCoat began on Instagram not in search of sponsorship, but in support of this unabashed fandom.

But why this coat? In all its ubiquity, this singular item reveals what shoppers want today. It is both stylish and affordable, and talked about highly by influencers and reviewers. Plus, it can be bought easily, delivered quickly and returned without hassle.

The fact that it’s by an unknown brand adds to the appeal. Just 23 percent of shoppers aged 15 to 29 feel that a strong or well-known brand is an influential product feature, according to Euromonitor International’s Lifestyle Survey 2017. Things that they value more are: comfort (56 percent), quality (45 percent) and value for money (44 percent).

It looked like Balenciaga could have created this jacket if it was into athleisure outerwear.

The "Amazon Coat" is sold on Amazon but made by Orolay, a brand by Chinese manufacturer and exporter Jiaxing Zichi Trade Co. The price has grown with its popularity. It was originally under $100, then around $100, jumping to $129 and now $139. "Our wide range of selling partners is an important part of our selection, from small businesses like Orolay, to emerging designers and well-known brands," an Amazon spokeswoman said in an email statement. "We are thrilled to see the success of the Orolay Women's Down Jacket." (Orolay did not respond to requests for comment.)

Many coat owners report being hooked initially by the coat's distinct style. "It's not a regular puffer," said Elizabeth Spiridakis Olson, who works in fashion in New York and discovered the coat via a friend's Instagram post. "It's just weird-cool enough," she said. The oversized silhouette with six pockets has a customised fit thanks to the adjustable side zippers. And it's warm to boot. The hood sits perfectly on her head, instead of dropping down over her eyes like other winter jackets, she explained.

According to coat-lore, and a piece in New York Magazine, the original adopters were a group of women on Manhattan's Upper East Side last winter. Lauren Posner, a stay-at-home mom who lives in the neighbourhood, bought hers last spring and has since noticed the coat all over the city. Her coat spottings were so frequent that Posner opened an Instagram account dedicated to it. (She has no ties to Orolay or Amazon, nor does she make money from the account.) She began by taking pictures of her friends in the coat; now, people regularly tag the account in their pictures. In less than two months, @TheAmazonCoat has attracted nearly 2,000 followers.

To Posner, the popularity lies in the price. “To spend $100 on a winter coat that is actually warm is kind of like a fashion coup,” she said. That’s especially in comparison to other trending winter styles by luxury brands. Around $100 is a sweet spot, Posner believes; even $300 would put it in a different spending category for many shoppers.

Bridget Barbier-Mueller, the Dallas-based blogger behind Being Bridget, bought the coat herself after hearing about it from a friend in New York. “It looked like Balenciaga could have created this jacket if it was into athleisure outerwear,” she said. Barbier-Mueller shared it immediately on Instagram but waited until recently to share it on her blog, when the coat was back in stock in more colours and sizes. On Instagram, to her 52,000 followers, she detailed why she liked it; it was long enough to cover her backside and the oversized body was balanced by the true-to-size arms. She has sold more than 900 coats, according to her affiliate link tracking. “This jacket is hot ticket,” she said.

Barbier-Mueller, who has been blogging since 2012, attributes the higher-than-usual response to the ease of purchase. Amazon offers one-click shopping for people with an established account, which makes it easy to shop via a “swipe up” link in Instagram. Its shipping and return policies, especially for those with a Prime membership, eliminate any risk from the transaction. That’s especially important on more fashion-forward pieces, which Barbier-Muller considers this jacket to be: “It makes it less scary to try.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/BuBd-80nL44

Sarah Kosid, who lives in Kentucky, learnt about the coat via Barbier-Mueller’s Instagram. A loyal follower, Kosid associates Barbier-Mueller with quality products — and she trusted her take on the coat even more because Barbier-Mueller had purchased it herself, rather than received it for a sponsored post. Still, Kosid went to the Amazon product listing page and dived into the coat’s more than 6,000 reviews, with a rating of 4.2 stars out of 5. “People don’t write a review unless they feel passionately,” Kosid said.

More than half of shoppers aged 15 to 29 are influenced by independent customer reviews, and 43 percent are influenced by social media, according to Euromonitor International’s Lifestyle Survey 2017. “When it comes to shopping for clothes, fit, sizing and quality are key criteria — and when shopping online, these criteria are so hard,” said Ayako Homma, a fashion and luxury consultant at the market research firm.

The glut of positive reviews surely has helped the Amazon coat stand out. Still, there are millions of new products are listed every month, said Elaine Kwon, a former member of the Amazon Fashion team and a partner at Kwontified, a fashion and beauty e-commerce management firm. It can be hard for even the best-known brands to rise to the top.

Kwon suspects the look and thoroughness of the Orolay product listing helped it gain traction. On its virtual storefront, Orolay introduces the brand and its values, including “ethical practices” and “high quality.” Five years ago, most wholesalers wouldn’t have bothered. The listing for the specific coat features professional product shots on a model. The style of the pictures, as well as the range (including a back angle, a hood-up shot and a short video), have a similar vibe to other better-known brands. “It makes the customer feel like they are getting something like Everlane but on Amazon,” Kwon said.

Calling this the Amazon Coat, rather than the Orolay coat, is a huge win for the online behemoth, says Wendy Liebmann, founder of WSL Strategic Retail. It helps it be seen as a fashion player and a destination for apparel beyond basic socks and T-shirts. It also signals willingness for shoppers to be destination agnostic, in the name of saving money and time. It's not frowned upon or taboo to buy a winter coat in the same transaction as hand soap or granola bars. For some, it's even a point of pride, Liebmann said. The sentiment is: "I'm smart, I know where to get the lowest or best price, or get other stuff on my list."

Style, price, quality, ease of purchase — yes, to all of that. But the Amazon Coat also provides an intangible benefit, said Liza Bychkov-Suloti: “People love being a part of something.” Coat owners report with delight and pride moments when they have encountered other coat wearers. (@TheAmazonCoat regularly features group shots of multiple women wearing the coat.) Usually Bychkov-Suloti, a partner at Shadow in New York and an on-air style expert who owns the coat, wouldn’t want to be seen in something that someone else is wearing, but this coat has its own code.

“It’s like, ‘Hey girl, we both know we love it’ — it’s a fun moment,” she said. “You feel connected.”

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