Everyone has an opinion about Amazon and its relationship to fashion and apparel, and most of these sentiments are negative. For nearly ten years, Amazon’s plans in these consumer categories have been both one of the most misunderstood and one of the most poorly executed of any company out there.

But as time has passed, some brands are beginning to approach the platform with an open mind, albeit with specific use cases:

  • Nike was the biggest brand to endorse and sell on the platform, which it did by offering select mass-produced styles while also demanding that Amazon police illicit third-party sales of its products—something that seems to be going okay, but not fully resolved. Nike clearly wanted to use the platform for scale, to continue driving sales.
  • J.Crew briefly sold Mercantile, its lower-priced offering, on Amazon. J.Crew wanted to use Amazon to scale up its entry-level products by making them available to a wider audience. But the brainchild of Jim Brett, the line was discontinued soon after he was fired as CEO at the end of 2018.
  • The latest is Untuckit, which is using Amazon as an outlet store, offloading styles that it over-produced or did not sell to the platform. While the company says it is profitable, the brand says Amazon accounts for less than 1% of sales—not much for a company that did an estimated $150 million in 2018 revenue.

Some of these moves make more sense than others:

Nike can use Amazon to sell its core styles without hurting its higher-end and more desirable products that drive hype but account for less revenue. Because Nike’s brand is so well-known, it has leverage and doesn’t need the platform to build its brand as much as drive sales. This means that concerns about Amazon owning the data from these sales are less important for Nike since it’s already operating on a large scale and has enough resources to get feedback in other places. So far it also seems like the plan to crack down on third-party sales is doing alright and Nike continues to ensure that Amazon remains disciplined.

J.Crew tried to use Amazon to undercut its mainline products and put them in front of a bigger audience. While the Mercantile on Amazon stint was too short to determine if it worked, putting cheaper product into a marketplace it did not control came with ample risk, especially as J.Crew was trying to find its new voice. The fact that Amazon owns the data and controls the experience is more problematic for J.Crew than Nike since the former is trying to revamp its entire business and find a new path forward. Ideally it would launch as many of these selling experiences as possible on its own website and in its own stores to learn quickly and act autonomously.

Untuckit’s strategy makes sense from a short-term inventory perspective, but despite reported profitability, its Amazon foray comes with the biggest commoditization risk—specifically because 1) the brand is the product more so than at Nike or J.Crew and 2) because of Amazon’s growing focus on private labels and male dress clothes. (Product fit is not easy to get right, as many reviews for Amazon private labels can attest, but a short dress shirt is one of the easier things to knock off.) Sure, offloading product can help build Untuckit’s brand, but it also risks dragging down shoppers’ perception of the brand and lowering the price they are willing to pay. Even though Untuckit’s Amazon business is still small today, it would be much safer to put tighter controls on inventory, which in turn limits the products to sell through Amazon’s channel.

Despite these diverging use cases, they illustrate that brands are still taking it slow and experimenting before making big commitments to selling on Amazon. That’s the right idea, but they’d be even better off with more control of their inventory and with a strategy that fixated less on chasing scale. The answer to existing in an Amazon-driven world is to play a different game than Amazon is, and in this landscape, many brands should consider shoring up the mothership before trying to grow elsewhere for the sake of it. After all, this is how Amazon itself started and grew to be what it is today.