As Karl Lagerfield once said, “Vanity is the healthiest thing in life”—and if new data coming out of Barclays is any indication, it seems shoppers are fully taking that sentiment to heart.
More so than other social media platforms, Instagram leads as the place where consumers curate their personal brand, editing and filtering their pics to mimic the polished, professional snaps shared by fashion labels and high-flying influencers alike. But with these digital pages carrying as much (or more) weight as one’s real-life presentation, many consumers feel pressured to maintain a pixel-perfect facade—even if having an endless closet overflowing with cool new outfits and accessories to show off is actually beyond their reach.
Then when you factor in the rise of online retailers’ try-before-you-buy programs, a new take on a familiar phenomenon emerges. One of the drawbacks to shopping online is the inability to touch and feel garments and try them on for fit and drape, leading to astronomical return rates as consumers often buy multiples knowing they can pretty easily return the ones that don’t work. That’s why some fashion e-commerce companies, including Amazon via its Prime Wardrobe program, charge shoppers only after a specified window of time during which they can try on their selected styles in the comfort of their home.
However, some selfie-obsessed shoppers seem to be taking advantage of retailers’ policies, all in the name of getting that ‘gram-worthy moment.
In polling British consumers, financial services firm Barclaycard discovered that 9 percent admitted to donning new duds, tags and all, and returning them for a refund—just for the all-important social-media moment. Consumers bridging the millennial and Gen X generations were found to have a higher predilection for this behavior, with 17 percent of those ages 35 to 44 years old admitting to one-and-done wearing. Note that Gen Z teenagers were not included in Barclaycard’s survey.
What’s more, nearly one-third (31 percent) said there’s a higher likelihood of sending back clothing they got through try-before-you-buy programs, largely because they hadn’t even paid for those items yet. No risk, all reward.
Stereotypes and conventional wisdom may point to females as fashion obsessed, but according to the survey, it’s actually the men whose digital peacocking stole the show. In fact, 12 percent of guys surveyed by Barclays claimed they’ve sent back tags-on clothing worn once for the social media spotlight—five percentage points higher than the women who admitted to similar behavior. For 10 percent of men, it’s downright embarrassing to be caught twice in the same outfit (though 7 percent of women said the same). That could be a significant factor in what’s driving men to outspend women annually by 300 pounds ($380) on apparel and footwear, according to Barclaycard. Those Stan Smiths, Air Jordans and Supreme drops don’t come cheap.
“It’s interesting to see the social media trend further fueling the returns culture,” George Allardice, head of strategy for Barclaycard Payment Solutions, said. “We know from our research that returns are having a big impact on retailers, with a huge figure of seven billion pounds a year in sales that they potentially can’t recognize.”
With so much money at stake, retailers would be hard-pressed to let this new wave of consumer behavior continue unchecked.