PULLMAN, Wash. – As social media becomes the catwalk of the fashion industry, a Washington State University researcher is examining how it influences the way consumers interact and the merchandise they buy.
Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and the like allow customers from all walks of life to see styles beyond the fashion runways and to provide instant useful feedback, said assistant professor Jihyeong Son of the Department of Apparel Design, Merchandising and Textiles.
Once dominated by an exclusive group of designers and magazine editors, “social networking has made all types of fashion more accessible to the general public,” she explained. “Not only does this ‘bottom-to-top’ approach mean that consumers interact directly with many brands and retailers, but they can also share information and create trends among each other.”
Many brands and retailers use digital platforms to make consumers aware of their merchandise. In return, people can send direct messages to the companies and get expedient replies. This kind of engagement fosters customer loyalty and helps generate sales, said Son, who is analyzing data to gain insight into consumers’ motivations and behaviors and the ways brands and retailers respond.
Fashion bloggers, in particular, have made great strides in acquiring credibility and followers. When a skilled author posts photographs and descriptions of styles being worn by average consumers, he or she can garner thousands of likes and comments along with clicks to the websites of brands being presented, Son said.
“By employing a personal and interactive approach, bloggers, as opinion leaders, build trust and a sense of community among their followers,” she said.
In that online community, readers can connect to bloggers who better reflect their own looks and backgrounds than a super model on the front page of a magazine, she explained. These bloggers share information and knowledge about fashion styling, trends and new products and also impact relationships with and attitudes toward specific brands.
Building relationship networks
A prime example is millennial Chiara Ferragni of the fashion blog, “The Blonde Salad.” Once an Italian law student who posted personal style photos online, she now has 5.6 million followers on Instagram.
By using social media to build relationship networks with consumers, “she has become among the most influential figures in the fashion industry, with collaborations and endorsers ranging from Louis Vuitton to Guess and Mango,” said Son.
The industry’s shifting landscape isn’t expected to change back, she said. After all, fashion trends may come and go, but not the desire to forge meaningful human connections.