How the Internet is changing our buying habits
Text by Anusmita Dutta
It’s the festive time of the year again. Shopping malls are seeing more footfall than usual. Discounts and special sales events are the order of the day, as different sellers devise their own marketing strategies to woo the consumers. The excitement notwithstanding, many of us will agree that shopping experiences in today’s times are far from hassle-free. A visit to a mall tends to become very stressful for the already time-crunched modern men and women, where everyone has to fight for a place in escalators, elevators, payment counters or even parking spaces! The solution is simple, just shop online!
So, when did online shopping start? The history of online shopping dates back to 1995 when Amazon and eBay were launched as sellers of online products. In India, online shopping became popular after the year 2000.
Today, online shopping has taken a leap forward with social media shopping. According to research published in netimperative – Digital intelligence for business in April 2019, the number of consumers purchasing through online social media platforms has increased by 38% in the current year. Online shopping for clothes and apparel is, of course, an offshoot of online e-commerce.
Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter, are popular for online selling. Instagram for instance, has launched a shopping feature that allows brands to tag a total of 5 products in a single post. The user can click on the product links and access additional information about the products, including the websites of the companies to make the final purchase. The ‘shoppable posts’ offer great ease of shopping as the consumers can buy a product then and there if they like a product. Instagram currently has millions of active users and with features like the use of ‘ hashtags’, makes the posts searchable online, and its reach is tremendous.
Moreover, Instagram essentially is a photo-sharing app, and as such offers a clean and clear view of products giving buyers a good shopping experience. This is especially required for something as personal as shopping for apparels. Facebook almost offers the same advantages as Instagram for online shoppers. Since it has a larger monthly user base at 2.38 billion users vs Instagram’s 1 million user base and, finding potential customers on Facebook holds higher chances. It is due to this reason business owners like Debolina Chakraborthy who runs a handwoven saree business called Chakra Sutra use the social media platform such as Facebook to display her products and build her clientele; though the actual sales take place through other online/offline mediums. Until date, her business model has worked so well that she has not felt the need to have her own website.
Social media platforms can be used to sell products indirectly too. Facebook can be linked to Shopify, an e-commerce platform chosen by today’s sellers to display and sell their products. In the same way, Twitter and Pinterest have their own provisions for shopping through their sites either directly or through third-party e-commerce sites. With people logged in to social media sites all through the day, especially the mobile phone users, the purchase completion rates through these sites are also higher as compared to purchasing through an e-commerce site alone; where people tend to fill up their shopping carts and later abandon them without making any purchase.
It is not just for the purchasing act alone, but social media has brought fashion so much closer to the average middle-class person’s life. As a child, I remember haute couture for us was confined to flipping through glossy magazine pages or looking at high-end stores in awe. Today, live fashion shows from around the world are streamed on sites like Facebook.
Back in 2012, Kathryn Hagen, head of the fashion department at Woodbury University remarked how social media was responsible for opening up fantastic entrepreneurial opportunities. So, how are fashion companies leveraging social media to their advantage?
Well, timely updates on exclusive deals and promotional campaigns make the latest fashion available to consumers and help them make a purchase decision more swiftly. Moreover, news on upcoming fashion events and contests to get entry into the fashion world have made people identify with brands more closely. They feel there is transparency in the way the companies function. For instance, Indian companies such as MyUrbanAisa and ChakraSutra give opportunities to customers to wear their creations and post the pictures which help create a more loyal clientele. In Spain, Chicismo is a unique site, that allows users to post photos of their favourite looks for others to vote on and then buy the apparel for themselves if they wish to. Moreover, the website serves as a guide to users on how to mix and match different apparels and come up with a look they want. Users can also chat with designers and fashion retailers on fashion tips and avail a personalised shopping experience suited to their needs.
For many people though visiting a brick and mortar shop has its own charm that cannot be replaced by shopping online. For festivals such as Durga Puja in Bengal, Assam, and Orissa, buying apparels to gift one’s family and relatives is a tradition and has an emotional significance. Hence, people may not like to make such an important purchase without checking the product in person. Moreover, shopping outings for many, especially the older generation doubles up as an opportunity to socialise where they spend the afternoon with friends and interact with storekeepers.
To sum up, shopping in a mall today is no longer an ‘exclusive’ activity done on special occasions like it was until two decades back. With increased consumerism, shopping is today is a mundane activity. Now, people are used to buying all through the year either out of requirement or even as a past time. Prior to the festive season, we have the seasonal or clearance sales offers in malls and add to it all, the sales events keep happening at regular intervals. Therefore, many people do not like to spend time going to a mall in person anymore.. Online shopping is therefore here to stay and social media is an important means to popularise it.
About our writing program student:
Anusmita Dutta works as the Content Head in GetAConnect.in. She started her career in the e-learning industry but moved on to writing in the print and the web medium as well. She is also a Spoken English Tutor and a children’s storyteller.
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