Times have changed, and with the advancement in technology, the way we communicate and socialize with each other has evolved. Or, more accurately, we have found new ways to socialize – through various social media channels. Social media is still adolescent relative to the Internet, but it is fast becoming a significant component of the Internet and all that it offers.

Extensive research has uncovered some interesting figures: in august 2017, that more than half of the world’s population are Internet users. Specifically looking at social media, there are more than 3 billion users worldwide – up by 4% (approximately 120 million) from April 2017. Such numbers show the increasing phenomenal growth of social media, which further lures businesses into depending on it.

Figure 1: Global internet stats from august 2017

One industry which has been significantly disrupted by social media is the retail clothing industry – regardless of it being clothes (or even baby clothes online), shoes, or accessories. With access to so many people through social media, marketers are utilizing the various social media channels as a medium to reach people. Similarly, various companies are establishing their presence online and turning to social media to do business. Social media has also influenced people’s purchasing habits – resulting in an off-shoot business model.

Mannequins replaced by pixels

Primarily, social media allows people in a network to communicate and socialize with one another. This phenomenon has changed the way people interact with one another – a significant (and growing) number of people are interacting through social media. A study has shed light on how much time individuals spend on average on each of the more popular channels, as seen in the figure below.

Figure 2: Average daily time spent on the more popular social media channels

As people are spending more time on their social media accounts, brands are increasingly utilizing social media to reach the masses. The figures below show the most popular social media channels and their penetration rates amongst millennials.

Figure 3: Monthly minutes on each site vs. the outreach to millennials

There are many reasons why social media marketing is proving so effective. Firstly, it comes off as more authentic – it is easier to build a narrative which customers can comprehend better. “It’s a walking, living magazine. People think ‘oh that’s what it [a particular clothing] looks like with a denim skirt’” to quote a head of digital media at a fashion PR firm.

In addition, brands are investing in their social media teams and have people constantly monitoring the channels engage with the customers in real time, building a closer connection with them. Several brands go as far as live streaming their fashion shows; a glimpse into their new product line providing customers a sense of privilege.

Close to half the millennial population admits that its purchase decision is influenced by social media. As expected, money spent on social media marketing has risen from 3.5% of the entire marketing budgets in 2009 to 11.7% in 2016 – a 234% rise in 7 years – highlighting the increasing importance of such channels. Another source reveals that social media advertising budgets have nearly doubled worldwide from 2014 to 2016 – from US$16 billion to US$31 billion. Some of this money is coming from the budget of the traditional marketing channels (eg. Broadcast, Print, etc.), which has thus reduced proportionally.

An evolution – not just buying from a brick and mortar store anymore

In many ways, the introduction of social media in people’s lives has altered the way people behave. People’s actions are often influenced by the need for validation, especially when it comes to how they appear online. This has also affected the way they shop for clothes. Before social media became a widespread, people would purchase and wear clothes multiple times. However, in the ‘selfie-era’, consumers (especially millennials females) are uncomfortable to being seen in the same outfit regularly – giving rise to the “wear it once” culture.

This creates a higher purchase rate – customers are coming back to buy more goods, much faster than before – thus increasing revenues. This pattern of quick purchase-use-discard is not viable economically for most people, however. And from this has risen a new model – rentals. Rather than purchasing the clothes, some businesses allow people to rent clothes and return them after use, with various pricing options available. Not only does this allow people to rotate their outfits often, it does not cost as much as purchasing the same high-end outfit (which in all likeliness will not be worn more than a handful number of occasions).

As far as sales channels as concerned, the bigger brands and designers have their dedicated e-commerce platform on their websites. But there are those as well who rely on social media as a sales outlet – especially designers and brands just starting out, who do not have a significant physical presence (or any presence at all).

These businesses then utilize social media as a sales channel. Most of them display their collection on these various platforms and customers get in touch with the maker. Even social media companies have realized the importance of social media in ecommerce and will soon start providing ecommerce functionalities to their user, to use the platform as a sales channel.

The time has come when our communication habits have been altered by social media and more people are joining the various channels, in order to stay ‘connected’. People are spending more time on social media, which has presented an unprecedented opportunity for businesses. Not only has social media been an effective marketing tool, it is also increasingly becoming a sales channel, akin to e-commerce platforms. Social media has also had an effect on people’s demeanour towards clothes and the usage habits, resulting in a new line of business. With the growth of social media, surely it will further influence the fashion industry, and it remains to be seen what else it brings along.