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Yesterday the Financial Times published an article entitled: "The luxury world after Web 2.0"
"What happens when following the fashion herd becomes wisdom of the masses? When everyone can become his or her own fashion editor? When "citizen" journalists replace glossy magazines as oracles of fashion?"
The major premise behind the social shopping services featured in the article is that recommendations from trusted sources such as friends and 'experts' are (or can become) important promoters of sales in the fashion business and that these services represent the perfect platforms for consumers to publish and discover those recommendations.
The truth is that, especially in the realm of luxury brands and high fashion, celebrity and exclusivity still remain key drivers for success. If powerful Influentials exist for fashion brands, they're more likely to be celebrities, athletes, supermodels, hip fashion designers etc. than they are to be trend followers and average consumers.
In other words, there's a very good reason that brands like Louis Vuitton have become synonymous with "celebrities, models, and the wealth that buoys them".
There's a very good reason that many shows at Fashion Week use significant chunks of their budgets to ensure that celebrity attendees are in the audience. And there's a very good reason that "luxury" brands grapple with the "mass versus class" dilemma.
Of course, social shopping startups seem to ignore these things while playing up the power of recommendations from friends instead.
The Financial Times states:
"People are starting to trust friends or those they consider to be their peers. If someone recommends something to you, you're more likely to trust that recommendation and then go on to buy it."
Starting to trust friends and peers? As I've pointed out before, word-of-mouth has existed for a long time.
Somehow social media proponents seem to be doing quite a good job of convincing the world that this is a new phenomenon that they control.
Osoyou.com's Dawn Bebe, for instance, states:
"Five or 10 years ago, people used to look to magazines for that kind of referral but now, peer-to-peer referral is the first option."
I would love to see the quantitative data behind this claim. Furthermore, it's not quite clear that online social shopping is best positioned to leverage word-of-mouth to the significant benefit of the fashion industry.
Keller Fay Group, a 'word of mouth research and consulting' firm, found in a 2006 study that 92% of word-of-mouth marketing takes place offline.
Interestingly, 41% of the conversations about brands "involve a reference to something seen or heard in the media or in marketing material", which seems to go against the notion that traditional advertising is on its deathbed.
A 2007 study by Keller Fay Group found that, while teens are more likely to be involved in online word-of-mouth marketing, 61% of this still occurs offline.
At the end of the day, I will not argue that there is no utility in services that enable fashionistas to share their wardrobes virtually, recommend new fashion products and so on. There are certainly consumers who like these services. But fashion communities are nothing new either.
The biggest beef I have with articles like the one published by the Financial Times is that they overestimate the importance of Web 2.0 to the world despite the fact that, most of the time, there is nothing revolutionary going on.
Web 2.0 didn't invent word-of-mouth and it's not likely to have a major impact on the way the fashion industry operates and drives sales.
So how will the world of fashion look after Web 2.0? Probably pretty similar to how it looked before Web 2.0.