How Social Media Contributed to the Rise of Fast Fashion

Opinion: Most people can’t afford to buy a high-end item and only wear it once

When you look at how social media is a part of our lives today, it’s hard to recall life without it. Everywhere you go, someone around you is on their phone engaging with some sort of social platform. And while some people use social media to share content, some people just use social media to see what their friends are doing.

According to Jeff Goins, author of The Art of Work, there are two types of social media users: “sprinklers” and “vacuums.” The sprinklers of social media share content, and the vacuums suck it all up. It’s in a way like the food chain, one can’t exist without the other.

Combined they keep social media alive, as they’ve fueled social influence and discovery and ultimately what we now know today as “social proofing,” which arguably represents the most powerful psychological trigger in marketing.

Fast fashion is one industry that is reaping the benefits of these habits, and it appears that it will continue to for years to come.

Before social media, many consumers would spend more on certain fashion items. The adage was often shared in magazines about quality “investment” pieces (you’ve all read the “splurge” or “steal” stories I’m sure). Items in one’s closet simply weren’t as exposed as they are today, and you could carry a handbag for 30 days in a row because no one saw it.

While high-end items are still a luxurious commodity, now in the world of Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest—where people post weekly, daily or even hourly—the psychology around wearing that same thing too often has quickly changed. Today, consumers want to display their favorite brands to their network so they can affirm their buying decisions and be part of the crowd.

Social media encourages the mentality that once an outfit or item is shared with the public, it can never be worn again and photographed. The problem with this psychological shift is that most people can’t afford to buy a high-end item and only wear it once.

One solution this created was fashion rental sites like Rent the Runway (with the rental model that people can wear high-end clothing and return it after they’re done, and no one on social will ever know whether they rented it or purchased it), but it is also where fast fashion retailers have seen incredible opportunities.

Because of this change, people are more inclined to purchase low-cost, fashion-forward clothing to stay on trend as they share their latest looks with their social followers more often.

Fast fashion retailers are seeing the benefits of these trends’ shorter life cycles because it’s resulting in people constantly looking for a product to satiate their moment of inspiration. Today, people don’t walk into a retail store to find their next look—they turn to their social media feeds to see what’s happening around them with friends or people they admire. These behaviors support the concept of social proofing and empower the sprinklers of social media to become influencers in their own right and the vacuums to find a way to duplicate the look, before it’s gone (and affordably).

According to consumer studies, 81 percent of people are influenced by friends’ posts and 85 percent of people are influenced by celebrity endorsements when making a buying decision. Fast fashion retailer Boohoo reported that its profits doubled after paying celebrities to promote its products on Instagram to 16- to 24-year-old fans.

For retailers, this means social media is carrying more weight than mannequins in their own store windows and, more important, it’s a way into engaging and retaining customers.

User-generated content used to be images of users’ proudest outfits, and now it’s transformed into brands’ marketing budgeted strategies that provide incentives for customers to evangelize it. The possibilities are endless for fashion brands on social today.

Looking ahead, this cycle isn’t slowing down, and it’s now easier than ever for inspired shoppers to find their next look online—not to mention items that look suspiciously similar to high-end pieces.

By converging the act of shopping online with technological advancements like artificial intelligence, social influence and discovery have been supercharged, and retailers can now find consumers at any moment, and vice versa.

In 2017 alone we’ve seen significant progress with AI being integrated into the online shopping world. Wayfair is the most recent retailer to launch its own visual search engine to help its shoppers find the product they’re looking for and easily make their home decor inspiration a reality. The company even claimed that this feature would be most beneficial for discount shoppers who love the look of high-end furnishings but need something more affordable.

Pinterest also launched Lens for Android and iOS and just recently launched the ability to increase the efficiency of its ads using AI technology.

While we can’t predict the future, we can use the track records of etailers like Asos and Goxip to see how successful social proofing can be in pushing higher sales and engagement.

Social media has become the direct path into online shopping baskets, and it’s undeniably connected to how easily people are influenced by others. It doesn’t matter if it’s a family member, friend or celebrity—we’re all affected by what’s around us and we don’t want to be left behind.

Fast fashion opens doors for people who want to replicate looks but who don’t have the means to purchase high-end items. Add social media into the mix, and the fashion industry is constantly evolving with no end in sight.

Oliver Tan is co-founder and CEO of visual recognition company ViSenze.

Image courtesy of Dahabian/iStock.