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‘We Are What We Consume’ - The Young, Online, Retail Consumer

In a technologically advanced and digital world, we spend an average of 4.8 hours a day on our phones. To quote philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach “We are what we eat.”, metaphorically, we become what we visually consume. This expands relationally to our consumerist responsibility, control, and choice.

Out with the old, in with the new.

Due to the influence of our consumerist economy, fast fashion trends equate to spending more - festering the cyclical nature of ‘out with the old, in with the new’. This wasteful, throwaway state of mind is adopted by consumers through psychological advertising. Targeted ads, paid influencer brand deals, pop-up ads of recently viewed item baskets and personally suggested items all subconsciously coerce consumers into buying the latest trends.

According to Digital Commerce, the UK is the third-largest eCommerce industry globally, with “almost 80% of internet and social media users shopping online”. This ranks the UK as the highest online shopping spender in all of Europe. Unsurprisingly, these statistics have rocketed due to the pandemic, with UK retailers predicting to make an additional £19.6 billion in online home deliveries by 2025.

In a closer view, McKinsey Fashion Scenarios predicts that global fashion sales are to reach 103%-108% in 2022, aided by a new wave of digital shoppers. These digital shoppers are expected to make a permanent shift to online shopping rather than in-person. This, of course, has huge environmental consequences, from fast-fashion material production costs to shipping pollution and unsustainable packaging materials.

Online shopping has negative effects on our environment, but it also teaches young generations of consumers to desire materialistic items instantaneously. This is done through subscription schemes for next day delivery, furthering the consumers’ spending amounts and psychologically curating a certain obligation of loyalty to the brand, again increasing spending. Evidence suggests that speed delivery is damaging to customers’ patience tolerance, especially in young generations, as we progress into a world that requires high demand and fast delivery. A survey by Sitecore found that 69% of Gen. Z believe they’ve become less patient with online experiences since the pandemic. These speed delivery schemes also negatively affect the environment through increased delivery vehicle emissions.

Impulse buying is also increasing, with 77% of digital consumers having impulse bought. Out of those who did not, 70% revisited the site within an hour to make a purchase.

What can I do?

However, there are ways to shop more sustainably online. This could be, for example, using second-hand, vintage, and charity sites or apps like Vinted or Depop. These websites also allow users to swap clothing items and encourage reusing and recycling existing retail items, transcending the production of new fast fashion materials and fabrics.

Another way to shop more sustainably online is to buy from stores that sell sustainable products. You can find a list of ethical and sustainable clothing stores here at ‘Good On You’. Click and collect is another way to shop more ethically online, as this method cuts out unnecessary packaging and home delivery emissions.

Along with fast home delivery, the ability to return items has seen a significant increase as fast fashion brands expand their online availability. However advantageous and practical this is for the consumer, the environmental effects are huge. Each year, 5 billion pounds of waste is created through online retail returns items. This waste is incinerated or sent to landfill sites – both of which cause air pollution and the inability to decompose due to decomposable materials.

Another way to become a more conscientious and ethical consumer is to think about how returning fast fashion items of clothing can harm the environment. Instead, consider clothes swaps, donations, repurposing, and up-cycling.

Social media – the new selling platform

Exposure to saturated social media promotion is a psychological advertising technique to encourage sales. Increased social media engagement is elicited through; giveaways, social media brand presence and paid celebrity promotional deals. It has been reported that 78% of marketers using social media have increased sales numbers. This is not limited to just fast fashion brands; however, it is disproportionally weighted, which encourages unsustainable consumer shopping habits.

The social media shopping world currently has its teeth specifically within a young consumer demographic, with 1 in 3 having made purchases from social media - 43% being 18–24-year-olds and 47% being 25–34-year-olds. New trending buying schemes aimed at this demographic, such as TikTok’s 99p plastic water bottle, is evidence of the consumerist economy’s preference for driving unsustainable consumer spending over encouraging sustainable environmental choices. However greatly retailers advertise and promote these schemes, the engagement in which is inherently the choice and responsibility of the consumer.

We live in a world where we must learn to consciously question our consumer behaviour. We must ask ourselves - is my online consumption leading me to make unsustainable and unethical purchases? How does this affect the planet and my consumer patterns? And ultimately - is what I am consuming becoming me?


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