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Is the Need to ‘Gram Killing the Retail Experience?

If a consumer walks into a store, tries on a jean jacket, takes a photo, puts it back on the rack, but posts the photo to Instagram, does it help or hurt your business?

Selfie shopping is another new consumer behavior retailers are having to come to grips with. While some embrace it as free publicity, others are growing tired of being treated as a fantasy closet. At Project New York, streetwear aficionados debated about Instagram’s influence on retail and if the need to share may be dulling the light of some unique retail concepts.

“It’s a question that I hear a lot in regards to flagship stores for large luxury brands that have this ongoing dilemma where the consumer is using their retail space, maybe for something else,” said Jeff Carvalho, Highsnobiety managing editor. “Is it a good or bad move to dissuade consumers from photographing themselves in your store?”

The majority of what luxury retailers sell is not clothes. Rather, Josh Peskowitz, men’s fashion director for Moda Operandi, said consumers are picking up more accessible items like accessories and fragrances—items that are not easily shareable in an image. “So if a consumer is promoting a brand through trying something on and saying how much they love it, that adds awareness for your brand,” he said.

While the social aspect of tagging brands in photos helps build community, trying on clothes also allows aspirational consumers to build deeper connections with brands. Whereas past generations would go into stores repeatedly to look at a skateboard or jacket they were pining over, Jian Deleon, Highsnobiety editorial director, says young consumers today will repeatedly look at products online and then visit a store. “I feel like you could charge people for trying on clothes,” he quipped.

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The caveat, Peskowitz noted, is that most luxury brands especially want to control their image and messaging. Through the rise of social media, the brand’s image, he said, is no longer in the hands of the brand—consumers interpret what it should be.

For Bodega, the Boston-based sneaker boutique famously hidden behind a working bodega, social media could have been the death of the experiential store and the surprises it has in store for consumers, but co-founder Oliver Mak says it has worked to its advantage. “It gives us the ability to hit everybody directly in the face at any time with whatever we have to tell people,” he said.

If Instagram is the new shopping catalog, Mak said the physical store is like the Boys and Girls Club. “It’s where you go to learn from your older brother or sister about the punk band that you should follow from the ’80s,” he said. “It’s where you go to get context about why that cut-off pant makes sense. It’s where you go to connect and talk to someone who understands counterculture.”

And Instagram and Instagram Stories, he says, adds to the excitement of visiting Bodega by raising its awareness. A photo of the Grand Canyon may be awe-inspiring, he added, but it will never live up to visiting the real deal.

“Once you come into the space and you experience something that is meant to be performance art and installation, and then you connect with the community, those things amplify what you’re were curious about on Instagram,” Mak said.