RealTime IT News

It's Official, It's Called Ruby, It's in Beta

Amazon.com, which has a track record of soft launches for some of its retailing initiatives, has opened its "Project Ruby" retail clothing effort to the public, launching an online store that will carry merchandise from more than 400 major clothing brands.

Although the company refused to comment on the matter Wednesday, a day later an e-mail signed by CEO Jeff Bezos was going around, telling Amazon customers that "Ruby is almost ready for its public unveiling.

"But, before we release it broadly, we wanted to give our best customers a chance to try it first (warts and all) and give us feedback."

Ruby is accessible here, but not through the main Amazon.com site.

Seattle-based Amazon quietly began beta testing sales from third-party print catalog marketers last May.

Bezos said in the e-mail that the new apparel and accessories store will have more than 400 major clothing brands (including Gap, Old Navy, Nordstrom, Lands' End, Target, Eddie Bauer, Polo Ralph Lauren, OshKosh and Foot Locker, among others.

Interestingly, Amazon is incorporating retail partners such as Target and Marshall Field, with which it has had a relationship, with the newer partners such as Gap and Nordstrom.

In theory all its partners thus will be happy. In practice, fulfillment is their headache, not Amazon's. In fact, Amazon has a special area where it aggregates the shipping policies of its various partner merchants.

Amazon is touting the apparel store as "400-plus brands - One cart." Shoppers, of course, can also put non-clothing items in those carts, as you can navigate to other areas of Amazon from "Ruby."

For starters, Amazon is offering visitors to the apparel site a $30 promotional certificate when they spend $50 or more, "but what we care most about is getting your feedback, Bezos said.

Consumers can shop by store or by category, such as men, women, accessories, shoes, kids and babies, etc. Or you can browse by brand, from Adidas to Zinc, to see what a particular retailer has online. (Land's End alone had 93 pairs of women's shoes listed.)

Amazon, of course, will bring its consumer hordes to the new apparel store. And if it 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," Jupiter Research senior analyst Ken Cassar has said.

Of course, Amazon is not alone in attempting to capitalize on Internet apparel sales. eBay reportedly expects to generate $400 million in gross merchandise sales in that category this year. And most of Amazon's retail partners have their own Web sites, too.