Online retailer Amazon.com on Thursday ended months of speculation by launching a new apparel store on its Web site featuring fashions and accessories from 400 of the world’s major brands.

The store, which can be accessed at http://www.amazon.com/ruby, features collections from leading labels such as Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, Nordstrom, Land's End, Eddie Bauer and Target.

News of the launch came in an e-mail to existing customers from Amazon.com chief executive Jeff Bezos who also offered customers $30 off purchases of $50 or more.

"For almost a year, we've been working on a new effort which we've internally called 'Ruby'," he said. "Ruby is almost ready for its public unveiling."

Reports suggest Amazon will provide the Web site browsing and purchasing facilities while its retail partners handle the inventory, packing and shipping details.

Analysts say they expect online apparel, footwear and accessories sales to rise to $5.2 billion in 2002 from $4.2bn last year.