Web retailer Amazon is expected to open an online apparel store later this year to take advantage of a product line that is growing in popularity with Internet shoppers.

While Amazon would not confirm or deny its plans, The New York Times has spoken with a number of retail industry executives who have been approached as potential partners to sell their goods through Amazon's site in an online mall.

The company is believed to be looking at this format because no single apparel maker offers a spectrum of goods broad enough to satisfy Amazon's 34 million customers and 37 million monthly visitors - unlike travel or toys where Amazon currently allocates space to a single vendor. Also, it would be very difficult for Amazon to try to build an apparel store on its own given the fit, feel and returns problems associated with selling apparel online.

Most well-known apparel companies already have online and shipping operations of their own and are unlikely to want to hand over their warehousing and shipping operations to Amazon say analysts.

According to retail executives who spoke anonymously to The New York Times, the partnerships with Amazon would require an upfront investment to integrate the technology between the parties, as well as a significant amount of staff attention to ensure customer service standards were maintained. And at this stage it is difficult to evaluate the number of additional sales an arrangement with Amazon would bring.

A limited number of apparel transactions already take place on Amazon via links to eLuxury and Target Corporation. But a powerhouse apparel brand is essential if Amazon is to anchor the apparel category.

The New York Times believes Nordstrom and Gap - and perhaps Banana Republic and Old Navy - will probably be included in the initial rollout, among other large retailers and smaller accessories companies.