Critically discuss the digital consumer in
relation to fashion industry
Batool Safi Alhajji (116220482)
Table of Contents
2. Online Fashion Consumption Theories and Practices......................................................5
2.1. Social media and fashion consumer..............................................................................5
2.2. Building Online Fashion Community.............................................................................7
2.3. The diffusion of fashion trend through Digital influencers (opinion leaders) ..................8
2.4. Online Fashion consumption and self-concept............................................................ 10
The fashion industry has significantly evolved as today’s digital technologies extended the
reach of fashion and created new consumer groups. Precisely, consumers are actively
contributed to marketing content through a variety of consumption activities. In an attempt to
examine the digital consumers in relation to the fashion industry, this essay provides an
insight to some of the practices through which fashion consumption takes place online
explaining the underlying meaning behind the changing in consumer behaviour. To formulate
a holistic understanding of the digital consumer’s behaviour, key social and psychological
theories are used.
In the digital era, with the introduction of smartphones, tablet, and online secure system, the
online fashion industry has become more accessible. Although there was a skepticism at the
success of selling clothing via online, as fashion consumer would prefer to touch and try what
they would buy, the apparel online sales increased dramatically in the last few years. As in
2015, 12.1% of apparel and footwear purchases globally were made through a digital
channel, led by Asia-Pacific (China and India contributed over 50% of total apparel and
footwear internet retailing), Western Europe and North America (Eurominitor, 2016).
The trend is expected to grow. According to Euromonitor international, it is expected that
digital purchasing for apparel and footwear products will add US$142.1 billion in digital
purchases in the next five years (Eurominitor, 2016). As online apparel retailing has become
the largest online purchasing category, e-commerce website has increased. In 2016, a
research, conducted by the B2C E-commerce Observatory of Politecnico di Milano, showed
that the total sales of clothing from Italian e-commerce websites to Italian and foreign
consumers reached almost 3 billion euros, which is an increase of 35 percent compared to the
previous year (ecommercenews, 2016).
During the online purchasing Journey, Google’s clickstream research indicated that 76% of
apparel consumers use Google search engine to search about their relevant purchasing (71%
use the brand search terms and 29% use generic search terms) (Google, 2010).
Regarding M-commerce (mobile commerce), according to Eurominotor (2015), the
increasing digital traffic via mobile transactions takes place notably in five M-commerce
markets, China, US, the United Kingdom, Japan, and South Korea. According to an IMRG
report showed that visits to e-commerce sites via mobile devices accounted for 66% of all e-
commerce traffic in the UK, in the top of that is apparel, accessories, and clothing with 65%
of people use their mobile and 57% of them use their tablet (IMRG, 2016).
In relation to S-commerce (social media commerce), many fashion houses use social media
to engage with their consumers. A consumer survey conducted by Euromonitor (2014)
revealed that 20% of global survey respondents have shared a photo of a company-tagged
product or shared a purchase they made on social media. The fashion retailer has nearly 40
million followers on 20 different social media platforms and openly admits that it has become
as much a media content producer as a design company (Hope, 2016). For instance, when
Burberry shared on Instagram and Snapchat behind-the-scenes pictures and videos of the
Brooklyn Beckham’s shoot, it had some 15 million impressions in the eight hours (Hope,
2. Online Fashion Consumption Theories and Practices
As mentioned above, fashion consumption is increasingly taking place online. In addition to
traditional consumption practices, consumers engage in a variety of online consumption
practices; browsing Companies websites; shopping in virtual malls; social networking sites;
reading reviews and feedback from peer groups. Interestingly, even those who prefer to shop
in-store, they go online to search and find the best price and read reviews. All these practices
have furthered the knowledge of the consumers about the product. For this reason, generating
an understanding of online consumption is a focal issue for both scholars and practitioners of
2.1.Social media and fashion consumer
The social media following has increased over the last few years. For instance, in 2016, The
statistics shows that there are around 2.37 social media users around the globe (Statista,
2016), with 1.13 billion daily active users on Facebook (Facebook, 2016). The ease of social
media creates everyday users and consumers on the social network sites.
Social media platform, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs and Pinterest, drives
how consumer shop and what they wear. It has changed the source of style inspiration;
fashion news often breaks exclusively via Facebook and Twitter, fashion bloggers are now
sharing their style and their opinions about certain products and fashion designers are live-
streaming their shows. This increase of social influence is inspiring people to explore not
only their own personal style but also the trending style. Many consumers tend to review
multiple blog sites in order to make sure that they made the right fashion choices. To be more
precise, a research conducted by TK Maxx revealed that 37% of Brits said that they are
influenced by what others wear on social media. Furthermore, 1 in 4 admits that receiving
affirmation online (Likes and comments on their style), encourage them to try new style
(Digitalstrtegyconsulting, 2015). Furthermore, a research conducted by management
consultancy McKinsey on analysis of 7,000 shoppers’ behaviour, revealed that three out of
four luxury purchases, even if they still take place in shops, are influenced by what
consumers see, do and hear online (Hope, 2016).
Given the massive popularity of social media consumption practices among consumers,
several studies focusing on consumers’ motivation have emerged recently. Most of these
studies apply uses and gratification approach which concentrate on consumers’ motive on
using certain media and the consequences follow of that motives (Blumler and Katz, 1974).
Using this approach, Heinonen (2011) identified three different group of motivations of three
different activities that takes place on social media, i.e. consumption, participation,
contributions (see appendix 1). Theses motivation ranged from utilitarian to hedonic motives,
i.e. seeking information about certain products, the need to be socially connected with
families and friends and finally entertainment purposes (Heinonen, 2011).
In addition to Heinonen classification of consumers’ motives, it could also be suggested that
people actively engage in social media to measure their personal social acceptance. This
could be reinforced by social comparison theory which is initially proposed by the
psychologist Leon Festinger in 1954. Social comparison posits that individuals tend to
compare themselves with others who they perceive to be similar to them when they are
incapable of evaluating their opinion or have uncertainty about an issue, in this cases fashion
choices (Kang & Park-Poaps, 2011). Given the fact that fashion changes regularly and,
therefore, increases the risk of social failure, it is reasonable to assume that social comparison
is a prominent explanation of the adoption and avoidance of certain trend based on what
people see in the social media. By following different fashion bloggers, consumers can
identify the wide-spread trend and the one that they do not want to be associated with which
could be seen as an attempt to protect and enhance their self-concept (Banister & Hogg,
2.2.Building Online Fashion Community
Social media, Forums, Blogs, and Websites not only does enable consumers to create or share
content but also to create an online community. Consumers from all over the world share
their experiences through the internet. In the fashion context, many consumers tend to join
online fashion community to learn the basic of fashion, see how other people dress and
develop their personal sense of style. these communities range from personal style blogs,
forum, and websites such as Chictopia to more creative communities like Polyvore. By taking
Polyvore website as an example, consumers are able to assemble collages of clothing,
accessories, backgrounds and magazine clippings using thousands of still-life product images
from online retailers around the world and share their creations, leave comments for friends
and also download their finished assemblages to post on their website. There are thousands of
people to interact with and get inspired of (see polyvore.com). Another example would be
fashion blogs (women’s style blog and men’s style blog), there are many blogs that focus on
particular fashion niche, handbags, shoe, certain designers dress, a plus-sized or petit fashion
which offers women or men a forum to comment on designers’ work and discuss particular
It should bear in mind that all these Consumer-to-consumer online communications or as so-
called electronic word of mouth (eWOM) (Hennig-Thurau et al., 2004) enable consumer to
connect with thousands of individuals during the future purchase decisions process. Given the
fact that these practices could operate as eWOM within the online culture, it is plausible to
categorize it as “a virtual community of consumption”, which Kozinets (1999, p.254) defines
as “affiliative groups whose online interactions are based upon shared enthusiasm for, and
knowledge of, a specific consumption activity or related group of activities”. Virtual
communities are considered more influential than traditional reference groups because
consumers join these groups due to their common interests (de Valck et al., 2009).
Furthermore, fashion bloggers use the power of eWOM to spread their opinion to their
followers on particular brand and companies which, in turn, can build or break brand (Owen
& Humphery, 2009). Unlike marketer communication, eWOM is perceived to have a little
bias (Gruen et al., 2006).
From a psychological perspective, it could be suggested that creating an online community
and building relationship with strangers regardless of the geographical distance meets a
particular need. The nature of this need could be clarified through Maslow's Hierarchy of
Needs. In his theory, Maslow attempts to explain human behaviour which depends on
meeting certain needs (Maslow et al, 1970). One of them is the social need, which is based at
the third level of his hierarchy of need. It involves emotionally-based relationships in general,
such as friendship, intimacy, having a supportive and communicative family. According to
this theory, humans need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance, whether it comes from
a large social group, in this cases fashion online community, or small social connections
(family members, intimate partners, close colleagues). They need to love and be loved by
others (Maslow et al, 1970).
2.3.The diffusion of fashion trend through Digital influencers (opinion leaders)
Social influencers are usually experts, bloggers, speakers who use social media (Instagram,
Twitter, YouTube or Facebook) or websites (blogs) to establish an online presence and loyal
audience in particular niche. In addition to blogs, Facebook and Twitter are the most popular
social platforms for bloggers, which are the same platforms that generate the majority of blog
referrals and shares (see appendix 2) (Technoratimedia, 2012). Within the realm of the
fashion industry, they are seen as a source of information and inspiration for the current
fashion styles and upcoming trends. They offer various perspectives on fashion from both
inside and outside the industry, from individual designers to larger retailers. To be more
precise, they share their post-purchase experiences, cover runway shows, discuss their view
on matters of fashion and style. They also play a vital role in the diffusion process for a
certain trend. It should be noted that they are perceived to be knowledgeable about the
fashion industry, and tend to be explorative and innovative with their fashion style
(innovators). They adopt the new and innovative look and then communicate it to others. As
a result, many young people, or millennials, follow their style, accept it and wear it
(followers). Therefore, they become the opinion leaders in fashion worlds, along with
celebrities, stars, editors of leading fashion magazines or TV shows. This could be supported
by a study, conducted by Cheong & Morrison’s (2008), which revealed that bloggers were
perceived as opinion leaders, and accordingly the information they posted was often
considered during the decision-making process. The psychology of the influential power of
fashion bloggers could be understood through social influence theory. According to this
theory, a person could be influenced by others in a group, intentionally or unintentionally,
based on how he/she perceives his/her relationship with the influencers (Asch,1966). This
could be supported by previous studies which found that people view blogs credible and
trustworthy sources (Banning & Sweetser, 2007; Huang, et. al., 2008).
Additionally, the influencing power of digital influencers lies in the relationship they build
with their followers. A survey, conducted by celebrity brand strategist Jeetendr Sehdev,
revealed that 60% of US teens, aged from 13-17, are more likely to believe and buy from
YouTube stars than movie stars (Ault, 2014). According to the survey’s feedback, teens
enjoy the intimate and authentic experience with the YouTube celebrities, as they are more
engaging than mainstream stars (Ault, 2014). In the context of fashion bloggers, the research,
conducted by TK Maxx, showed that 11% of Brits are influenced and inspired by fashion
bloggers more than designers (Digitalstrtegyconsulting, 2015).
A good example of a successful fashion blogger is Chiara Ferragni also known as “The Blond
Salad,”, who has secured the top spot on Fashionista's list of digital influencers. She has 7.1
million followers on Instagram with an engagement rate of 1.44 (97,629 likes per post, 484
comments per post) (popularchip, n.d). For instance, when she posted her Beverly Hills shoe
closet on Instagram (@chiaraferragni), she received 211k likes and 9605 comments in a
matter of six days (see appendix 3). On Facebook, she has 1.2 million Facebook subscribers.
She was also named by Business of Fashion as one of the most influential personalities of the
international fashion world. Another example would be Zoella, fashion bloggers, who
explained how after mentioning a Topshop blusher in one of her blog posts (see
Fashionbi.com, 2012), there was a 40% click to the brand’s site. A further example of social
influencers is Amanda Cerny, a former model, who has more than 20 million followers. In an
interview with Bill Whitaker, the presenter of 60 minutes the TV broadcast, Amanda Cerny
said that “I posted my Snapchat video I just shot five minutes ago and now I have 35,000
views” (CBS, 2016). Therefore, social influencers play a vital role in online communication
and, consequently, in consumer behaviour, as they “spread information, influence decisions
and help new ideas gain traction” (Fournier & Lee 2009, p.109).
2.4.Online Fashion consumption and self-concept
By nature, fashion is a consumerist industry established on the concept of aesthetics
perception. Fundamentally, Fashion, clothing in particular, represent consumers’ sense of
identity “you are what you wear”. In the online context, there is much more opportunity for
consumers, women in particular, to express themselves and to construct their own ideal
selves through online identity in response to those set by the industry. For instance, people
buy expensive products, i.e. luxury fashion brands, and post their purchasing experience
online to be identified with a certain group (class status) or to express their own personality.
This paradoxical tendency of conformity and individuality are explained by Simmel (1904)
who reasoning that individual find pleasure in dressing for self-expression, but at the same
time gain support and affirmation from dressing similarly to others. This could be supported
by TK Maxx research which revealed that 18% of British women said they always ensured
they looked stylish for social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter
Moreover, post-modern consumers communicate their ideal self (stylish persona) through
demonstrating that they are professionally knowledgeable about fashion; i.e. posting fashion
runways pictures on their account, covering fashion weeks, discussing the latest fashion trend
in relation to clothes, accessories, bags, shoes or hairstyle. Sending picture of their outfits or
their daily style to their friends. Sometimes these pictures are headless to be more focused on
the outfits, the shoe or the handbag, buying new outfits if they will post their pictures online.
For instance, it indicated that 28% of British women said that they buy new clothes to avoid
being multi-tagged in the same outfit. Similarly,18% of them said that they will not wear the
same outfit if they know that there is a chance of being online (Digitalstrtegyconsulting,
2015). In an interview with The Independent, Camille Charriere, a 27-year-old fashion
blogger who runs the website (Camille Over the Rainbow), said:
“From the moment that people started uploading pictures of themselves or having people tag
pictures of them, they started to pay more attention. There is a trend of people thinking ‘I
don’t want to wear this, because I’ve already been seen in that” (Green, 2015).
Additionally, not only does online fashion consumption reflects our ideal self but also
contributes to reconstructing our self-identity. Several research studies have emerged to
explaining how digital environment, which becomes part of our extended self, is used as a
tool for reconstructing our self-identity (Boyd et al., 2010; Tufekci, 2012; Belk, 2014, 2013;
Sheth & Solomon, 2014). It has been suggested that the expanding of the digital environment
have brought the blurred distinction between the online persona (being online) and the real
self-identity (being offline), given the massive amount of time people, nowadays, spend in
online (Jagdish,et al 2014). To be more precise, as consumers create online identities (by
creating different digital avatars) they take pieces of these avatars back with them to the
physical world (Jagdish, et al, 2014). In the fashion consumption context, the positive
experience that the consumers have as a fashionable persona in the digital environment could
lead to strengthening their physical world purchases intentions especially if they receive an
affirmation or support from others in their online community. Their online fashionable
persona would influence their self-concept and, therefore, their consumption behaviour after
thy return to their real world. It should be mentioned that avatars, in the broadest sense,
include not only the dimensional graphic characters that we create as a representative of
ourselves on a computer screen, but also all our online activities including our emails, blogs,
social media profiles, ‘selfie’ photos and other online traces (Belk, 2014). Generally
speaking, in today’s digital era “we move from ‘you are what you wear’ to ‘you are what you
post” (Jagdish,et al, 2014 p.126).
In conclusion, online Fashion has revolutionized the dissemination of fashion information to
a mass audience, and it has become a major communication vehicle. In the current media
landscape, shows and designers, which were inaccessible, are being brought down to online
world by Twitter, Facebook, online streaming and blogs, allowing ordinary people to watch
what previously only the fashion opinion leaders were allowed to see. Hence, consumers’
online behaviour develops as they become actively generators of information. They are
taking part in different practices; using social media to establish awareness of the upcoming
fashion trend, following fashion influencers for style inspirations, create an online
environment that can be used as a platform to discuss and share experiences with those who
have common interests and using online platforms to express their self-concept. It should be
taken into account that all these practices serve different needs, i.e. social acceptance,
belonging to groups, following trustworthy leaders, and expressing the ideal self.
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Appendix 1: Consumers’ activity and motives in social media Heinonen (2011)
Entertainment Escaping the real
world and entertaining
oneself, mostly using
YouTube to take break
Social connection Social sharing and
Information retrieval of product
Sharing and reading
and rating for
consumption participation production
Appendix 2: Where influencers are social (Technoratimedia, 2012)
I H AV E AN AC C O U N T
I P O S T MO R E TH AN O N E A W EEK
WHERE INFLUNCER ARE SOCIAL
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