How my generation shops and why traditional retailers should be worried

I walk into a physical store to shop about twice a year – usually luxury department stores during the big bi-annual sales – and walk out with a few nice things. But my monthly shopping budget is at least double what I spend on those bi-annual escapades, it is mostly spent on high-end or luxury fashion, and I buy 90% of it online.

When I worked as a digital strategy consultant in Paris, we pitched a lot of luxury fashion houses on projects to help them keep pace with the digital revolution. Most of the time they told us that the digital revolution did not apply to the luxury fashion industry. People don’t buy luxury online, they insisted. They want service. They want to feel and see the items.

This may be true for a ultra high-end, world-renowned brands like Chanel. And it may be true now, but as their current clientele ages, I believe things will change even for these bastions of the fashion industry.

Why? I lot of it has to do with Instagram.

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A few of my favorite Instagram influencers, @thefashionguitar @slipintostyle and @camillecharriere

About three years ago, I started using Pinterest and Instagram as a source of fashion inspiration. Before then, I read Vogue and Elle, but I mainly drew my fashion inspiration from my peer group or spontaneously bought things I liked in physical stores. Today, I follow all the top Instagram influencers and my wardrobe is based on the trends they champion. They have taught me how to dress and inspired my interest in real Fashion with a capital F. Before Instagram, I was like Anne Hathaway on her first day of work for Runway in The Devil Wears Prada, looking down at my cable-knit sweater and school-girl skirt and asking Meryl Streep, “What makes you think I’m not interested in fashion?”

Apart from radically shifting my taste and style, my obsession with the Instagram fashion world has dramatically changed the way I shop in the following ways:

1 – I always have a very specific idea of what I want to buy before I start shopping. I almost never browse an online store, even during sales, just to see what they have in stock. If I am shopping, it is because there is a new trend I want to follow or a specific look I am trying to imitate, and I need a key piece to complete it. This is why I love multi-brand luxury platforms so much. I know I can go to Net-a-Porter and search for oversized white blouses and have access to a well-curated selection from all of the top designers where I can compare prices and styles. This is much harder to do in a physical store, even multi-brand luxury department stores, because you can’t just type in the keywords.

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The last look that I blatantly ripped off from one of my favorite influencers, @sjuloves. Everything in this look was purchased from online platforms, except the jeans, which are my mom’s from the 80’s 🙂

2 – I am a cult follower of emerging, influencer-driven brands. These are the pet brands of my influencer idols. Most of the time they are highly specialized (selling just colorful enamel bracelets, for instance) and are available only online or have only a small physical presence compared to their overall reach. Some of these brands have become such a fashion-week phenomenon that they are more coveted than the established designer brands. I am thinking of Staud bags, for instance, that took the latest fashion week by storm. The specific bag that Leandra Medine featured mulitple times on her feed was sold out for months on every platform on the internet. The brand certainly got more media attention than Chanel or Gucci, and since their bags are both more innovative in terms of design and retail for about a quarter of the price of the giant luxury brands, which would you rather buy?


The fashion week Staud bag phenomenon

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Me with my Staud bag

3 – I increasingly shop directly in the Instagram app. Most influencers tag the brands they are wearing in photos, and brands that are digitally savvy will have an Instagram account and a link to “shop” directly within the app. If I see Camille Charriere wearing a Ganni top, I can click the tag and I am redirected to their page. From there, I can click the shop tab. If they have featured the same item on their feed, then the link will take me directly to that item. If not, I know the brand and can shop their full website within the app and am sure to find what I am looking for (unless it’s sold out, which happens often with influencer-promoted items).

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Camille Charriere, wearing a Ganni sweater that I obsessed over for almost a year and just bought via Instagram

4 – I love the myriad of ways one can buy or borrow clothes on the internet, which are typically impossible or prohibitively expensive in a traditional retail setting. When you shop from a physical store, there is pretty much only one way to do it. You walk in, try things on, decide what you like, and then buy it. Once you buy it, you own it. Of course, there are physical consignment shops, but I find they have nowhere near the selection and fair pricing as peer-to-peer luxury fashion platforms like Vestiaire Collective. I also love models like Material World that send you a box of pre-owned designer clothing that is personally curated for you based on your taste (and the influencers you follow). You can hire a personal shopper to style things for you at Bergdorfs, but you had better be willing to spend a fortune. I have even experimented with clothing and jewelry rental from the likes of Switch and Rent the Runway.

To be fair, within my friend group, only a small fraction actually shops like this. But the ones who do have an outsized monthly shopping budget, an interest in luxury fashion, and a social media presence likely to generate buzz for the brands. They also tend to be slightly younger than I am, which leads me to believe we haven’t seen the end of this trend. I think the most threatened institutions are the physical department stores – Le Bon Marche in Paris, Bergdorf’s in New York – who have a very nascent online presence and do next to nothing to leverage Instagram. (Le Bon Marche launched it’s website only within the last year, after hiring away talent from Apple). But the brands themselves are not immune either. If I were to launch a fashion business in this day and age – and maybe I will – I would spend my investment dollars on a seamless online platform and Instagram marketing rather than real estate and print ads.



One thought on “How my generation shops and why traditional retailers should be worried

  1. Interesting top know the mindset. It is a passion that is infused with an “intellectual” bent. I am NOT in that category. I guess i am more like the “weekend warrior” in the fashion world vs the elite fashion shopper.


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