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Dressing to Kill at Amazon

Online retail kingpin Amazon.com, which quietly began beta testing sales from third-party print catalog marketers last May, reportedly is set to launch a new apparel store featuring clothing from name-brand apparel companies.

Seattle-based Amazon , which has had a long-term strategy of partner deals with other retailers (Target stores, Toys 'R' Us, Circuit City, Office Depot, Marshall Field's), is said to be teaming up with clothing retailers such as Gap (Gap and Old Navy brands), Land's End and Nordstrom department stores.

The Office Depot deal was one of Amazon's more recent partner efforts and a clothing store would likely be at least somewhat similar, although featuring merchandise from more than one retailer.

The new clothing store is expected to be launched in time for the holidays and will be heavily promoted, according to a Wall Street Journal report. The clothing retailers apparently would make their catalogs available and be responsible for their own fulfillment.

Amazon itself would neither confirm nor deny the report.

"We never respond to rumors about what we may or may not do in the future," said company spokesman Bill Curry.

During a conference call last week with Wall Street analysts, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos reportedly said that the company soon would begin "previewing a brand-new store that we've been working on for almost a year."

Such a move into the world of retail apparel, via its first-ever multi-retailer store, would put Amazon "in unfamiliar territory -- essentially competing head-to-head with AOL, Yahoo, MSN and eBay," said Ken Cassar, senior analyst at Jupiter Research.

"The strength of Amazon's brand will undoubtedly draw consumers to its new apparel section, but the long-term success of its apparel store will depend upon Amazon's ability to add value as an aggregator," he said. "If Amazon simply lists products and retailers, without building any value-added functionality (fit tools, for example) it will not drive the incremental online sales that will keep its partners and customers engaged after the likely initial enthusiasm."

However, Cassar added that if Amazon, as an aggregator, "can help the apparel shopper figure out what products are best for her (in terms of fit, styling, quality) across a wide range of retailers, the company effectively adds value beyond what any individual retailer can ever offer."

Each of the potential partners already has its own e-commerce Web sites, and Land's End, for instance, makes available online tools for assuring the right fit. But there is no universality.

Meanwhile, Amazon's experience in integrating third-party catalogs for its online consumers via CatalogCity.com no doubt will come in handy. In fact some clothiers, such as Jos. A. Bank, Lane Bryant and Lerner, already are featured in the catalog section. Amazon's list of current catalog partners is available here.

Amazon customers reportedly would be able to shop seamlessly from books and other items to clothing. Amazon, of course, would get a commission of some sort on each item of clothing sold via the partner deals.