A new study from the U.K. shows that people are buying clothes online to take pictures to post to Instagram and other social media, and then promptly returning them.
According to a feature in UK newspaper The Independent, the study found the biggest offenders are men and women aged 35 to 44, with middle-aged men being the primary culprits. They shop to post for #OOTD, a hashtag where other Instagram users can find photos of people showing off their daily wardrobe picks. One in ten shoppers in the U.K. admitted to buying, taking a picture and returning their outfits once they posted the photo to social media.
The research also found that because men are more “socially self-conscious” than women, men are more inclined to shop and return. Twelve percent of male participants in the study admitted to posting a photo in a new outfit and then returning it. Interestingly, the study also found that men were more embarrassed to be seen in the same outfit twice, even when going out with their friends IRL, compared to only 7 percent of women who felt the same.
Online retailers are also contributing to this phenomenon. More retailers are offering “try before you buy” options, allowing customers to purchase and return if they find they don’t like the outfit. Amazon just launched “Prime Wardrobe,” modeled after subscription services where customers can pick out a handful of items to try on before they commit to purchasing them. Once they receive the box and try them on, they can return what they don’t like, and are charged for what they keep.
Amazon aside, the growing number of returns is hurting overall retail business. While companies might see increased sales, they are negatively impacted because of the number of returns.
“It’s interesting to see the social media trend further fueling the returns culture. We know from our research that returns are having a big impact on retailers, with a huge figure of £7bn a year in sales that they potentially can’t recognize,” George Allardice, head of strategy at Barclaycard payment solutions, told UK newspaper The Independent.
Analysts are also weighing in, offering suggestions to online retailers to provide better quality photos and offer more examples of how the outfit appears when someone is wearing it, so customers can get a better idea of how it will look on them before they purchase.
Still, social media is a driving force behind customers’ clothing purchases. Many people are looking to be “influencers,” which means that they must keep their feeds current with new photos (and new looks), especially if they are involved with fashion or the fashion industry. Instagram is a huge platform, and companies will pay substantial advertising fees to those who have large followings. So this trend is likely to continue for the near future.
Barclaycard, based in the U.K., conducted the study.