Have you noticed the uptick in sales pressure from fashion brands over the last few months? I don’t know if it’s just me being an oversensitive soul, or brands are making a concerted effort to capitalise on the UK economy’s fastest growth in more than 70 years and upping the pressure to shop. But either way – it’s got to stop.
We’re well into Slow Fashion Season, and Remake’s summer of #NoNewClothes, so to support both missions to avoid purchasing new clothes, I decided to pen this piece looking at how brands make us feel pressure to shop. Plus these tactics feel so obvious now I’m not buying anything at all! Scroll down to look over some of the worst offenders, as well as tips on how to avoid these irresponsible sales tactics going forwards. Because you don’t need those orange angular sunglasses, or that multi-coloured bucket hat, I promise.
6 ‘Pressure To Shop’ Fashion Marketing Tactics To Look Out For
In my previous professional life, I worked in marketing. During that time, I committed my fair share of sins that contributed to overconsumption. From countdown clocks in newsletters, to copywriting product descriptions to make items seem exclusive, there’s plenty of sneaky ways that brands make us feel a pressure to shop. Now, as a reborn sustainable fashion advocate, I wanted to shine a light on these tactics, and ways to avoid them.
Ahead of writing this piece, I asked on Instagram which brands were the worst offenders for hard selling. Two brands topped the list: FashionNova and Shein. It’s not a surprise that fast fashion brands make you guys feel a pressure to shop – their business models rely on quick, repeat sales. So, along with my own findings, I’ve included live examples from both brands that highlight how they are only focused on one thing: getting your money.
1. Fake Urgency
Do you ever feel a rush when buying clothes? There’s the moment when you see an item that gets your heart racing. You open up the product page, and find it’s both in your size, and on sale. Quick, click it into your basket. Go to the checkout. Ooh, discount codes. You get an extra buzz with a little extra % off. Going, going, gone. You check the email confirmation. You feel pleased. And then, a day or so later, when the doorbell goes – that final dose of serotonin. It’s almost primal. It’s the thrill of the hunt.
Yes, shopping gives you the same feeling as getting high. I still get that rush even now, and especially with second-hand, one-off purchases. Yet it’s a bit shocking to think that fashion brands know this and employ tactics to exploit this. Sales are one of the most common examples: sales make us feel similar to how early humans felt when encountering predators, according to the late consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow. It’s why you’re likely to always find some kind of sale on when it comes to fashion sites – it might be a clearance sale, a seasonal sale, or a new-collection-has-dropped-sale that fast fashion brands seem to love. (These leave me scratching my head wondering how much more they can devalue their own products and lie about RRPs to their customers at the same time).
Put simply, sales create a fake urgency to shop. They’re time-limited, and product-line limited too – get it before it’s gone! Shein helpfully shows a ticking countdown on their site, for that extra little push.
In addition to sales, fashion brands love to use time-relative promotions to encourage purchases. Everything from “just launched collections” and “new styles added every week” through to “clearance” and “outlets” give that same sense of urgency. And for what? An ill-fitting dress bought at a discount? 23% of our wardrobes are never worn, according to fashion charity Traid.
How to avoid falling for the fake urgency to shop: Start by reducing your exposure to sales promotions – unsubscribe from newsletters, and unfollow brands on social media. My approach to Black Friday can be applied to just about any sale, at any time of year: Make a list for when you need or want something. Research those items. Then keep an eye out for sales to save a little extra cash.
2. Popularity Contests
Let’s be honest: we all want to be popular. Not the vain, high school type of popularity – I mean the kind of popularity that garners respect and love from our friends, family, colleagues, and those around us, and maybe even a small online following too.
Brands like to make themselves look popular too. In social media marketing, there’s a big focus on ‘creating a tribe‘ and building social media followings full of people who will wear your clothes, tag your clothes, and make it onto the brand’s feed. For a long time, I naïvely thought this was to create community, to create a sense of belonging. A group of people with a shared style and ethos, united under a corporate flag. It makes me a little bit sick thinking like that now.
This kind of brand popularity can also be used in a more insidious manner – to make these fellow customers your competition. They’ll get to the sale before you do, so don’t miss out. Shop by Popular, because these are what people like you like to wear. And if you’re a FashionNova fan, watch out for the 20.3 million followers also snapping up the clothes you want to buy… Even when you click away from their site, the tab will start flashing 🔥 Hurry! Items Selling Fast! It makes me anxious.
How to avoid feeling unpopular for not shopping: As an individual, you will never truly feel like you are part of a brand’s “tribe”. I know I don’t, and that’s even with the brands I work with and love to wear. Brands are exactly that: brands. They’re businesses. Not communities. If you’re looking for community, find values-based communities where you can bond with people over a shared interest, or simply schedule some time in for seeing friends and family!
3. Emotional Trauma
Speaking of anxiety… Let’s talk about the emotional trauma that brands often dangle in order to get us to buy stuff. One of the best examples of that I found in the wild last year, when browsing homeware store Habitat (which isn’t fashion, but close enough). ‘Get It Or Regret It’ the banner says, which is honestly just ridiculous. Excuse me while I wipe a tear for the storage box that got away…
Sprinkling in a dose of negative emotion to pressure us into shopping feels completely tone-deaf. In a world where we prioritise mental health more than ever before, it turns me off when I see brands hinting that I will feel bad later if I don’t buy something now.
How to avoid feeling emotional trauma for not shopping: Consider how content you feel with items around you, and the money you would have spent in your bank account instead. Also consider the lack of emotional support from the brand when you regret an impulse purchase later on. And even if they offer free returns, those items may just find their way into landfill instead of back onto the rails.
4. Empowerment Through Shopping
On the flip-side, some fashion brands are toting self-empowerment as an additional benefit of buying into their brand. Now, I know that there’s plausible psychology around how certain clothes can make us feel confident. We inherently trust doctors who wear white coats. And have you ever felt anxious turning up to an event underdressed? Me too. Dressing appropriately can make us feel like we belong. But can it really make us empowered?
Many fast fashion brands tout empowerment as something they offer. And when we shop, we visualise our future selves according to Kit Yarrow. So not only will we have something new to wear, we will feel even better about ourselves when we do, according to the brand’s marketing spin. What’s not to love?
Except, many of these brands can’t even fulfil this empowerment for the people in their supply chains. From cancelling orders during the pandemic to being opaque about the people who make their clothes, there’s a lot of work to be done.
So, don’t fall for the empowerment lie. Or in the case of SHEIN, the strangely patriotic bio. Or the rainbow-washed logo.
How to avoid falling for the ’empowerment through shopping’ lie: This ‘pressure to shop’ tactic used to work wonders on me. Years ago, when I had a bad week at work, I would go out and shop. And when I had a good week at work, I would go out and shop. In both circumstances, it was easy to justify it. I deserve this. I have power over this. I earned this. Except, shopping isn’t a harmless hobby. And I wasted what little money I had too. Feeling empowered and calling for devolved power isn’t something that can be achieved through consumption, period.
5. Vague Sustainability Claims
Greenwashing irritates me no end. Every H&M ad I see makes me bristle. Sustainability is in vogue, and fashion brands know it means a third of shoppers are willing likely to spend more for sustainable products, and that the pandemic has increased our interest in being more sustainable too.
Unfortunately, it also seems that the big fashion brands who are dipping their toes into the sustainable fashion pool know how to talk the talk more than walk the walk. As reported in Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index 2021, the research team noted that fashion brands’ self-reported sustainability efforts were “overwhelming, impenetrable, repetitive and difficult to find”. And to complement that, in a recent report covered by The Fashion Law, consumers are influenced by certain green terms, yet for the most part, these terms are not protected:
How to avoid falling for vague sustainability claims: Out of the above list, it’s worth noting that the only protected terms are ‘B Corp‘, ‘Fairtrade‘, and ‘Organic‘. The rest can mean anything. As a first step, it’s worth finding out what the brand’s own definition of these terms are. Then compare this to what your own expectation is. Personally, I see sustainable fashion as a combination of four elements:
- Social Sustainability: brands need to provide clear, accessible knowledge of who makes their clothes, and how they treat their people ethically, with safe working conditions and fair pay.
- Environmental Sustainability: brands need to transparently detail the natural and regenerated materials they use, as well as their practices to lower their impact (e.g. reducing energy and water use, avoiding harmful chemicals).
- Slow Production: brands need to drop four or less collections per year, or at the very least, be making a clear effort to reduce the amount of clothing they produce.
- Circular Practices: brands need to be designing clothes that are long-lasting, resellable, and recyclable, as well as inviting customers to return garments, which go back into production within the brand, as opposed to charity donations, or worse – landfill.
6. Must Haves & Divisive Language
Finally, I had to include a personal gripe I have as a former copywriter: ‘Must Haves’ must stop. Every brand’s tone of voice is carefully curated to feel a certain way, and phrases that apply a pressure to shop on their audiences is deliberate. ‘Must Have’ is a common phrase that appears across brands’ own marketing material as well as editorial content, and it draws a clear dividing line between those who ‘have’ and those who don’t. Through the use of just two simple words, it marginalises those who can’t afford items or can’t access items, and makes them feel like they’re not part of the group. This, and similar phrases, combine points 2, 3, and 4, into a toxic recipe for overconsumption.
How to avoid falling for ‘must haves’ and language that applies a pressure to shop: Ask yourself, do you really need it? If you like something, bookmark it, spend a few days thinking about it, and if you’re still intent on purchasing it, go for it. Or simply do what I do, and roll your eyes every time you see a must have list – because unless the list includes items like toilet roll and clean drinking water, they’re not really must haves.
We Are Citizens, Not Consumers
If you label yourself as a consumer, you can only consume. I’m paraphrasing from Kate Raworth’s fantastic book, Doughnut Economics*, but the line holds true, and feels like the perfect way to round off this post.
Big fashion brands only really want us to buy their products. In actuality, we have more influence over fashion brands than they like to tell us. We can call for better through campaigns like #WhoMadeMyClothes, #PayUp, and #ProtectProgress. We can influence policy. We can support small brands, local brands, and independent makers. We can care for our clothes, extend their lifecycle, and pass them on. We can champion circularity through fashion rental, second-hand, and vintage shopping. Check out the New Citizen Project for more on this.
Let’s stop feeling the pressure to shop. And let’s stop letting brands put us in a box too!