Blogshops are a dime a dozen in Singapore. But why are some doing better than others?
While having begun as home-based online businesses on relatively amateurish webpages hosted by Livejournal.com and Blogger.com in the mid-2000s, this excessively popular industry has in recent years become more polished and up-ed its game with many blogshops setting up their own domains, hiring professional photographers and make-up artists for their launches, and even employing a host of staff to run the business out of a fully furnished office or warehouse.
Some blogshops have registered their companies, while many others are operating their very own brick-and-mortar stores in prime locations, or have racks displayed at multi-label blogshop-exclusive collaborative storefronts such as KissJane, FirstDay, and theblogshop. Their excessive popularity and commercial success has been well documented in several media reports.
Blogshop Owners and Models
A distinctive feature of blogshop owners is the unlikely combination of relative youth and phenomenal commercial success. The blogshop community comprises mainly women between the ages of 18 and 35, with the most successful and popular of the lot (as of the early 2010s) in the 20 to 25 age range. The business savvy and marketing techniques appropriated by blogshop owners are usually informally self-taught and perfected through trial-and-error. They seldom undergo any formal business or entrepreneurship training, but instead rely on their own experience to explore what works and what does not. Most of them are also plainly imitating the structures and systems put up by other established blogshop owners.
While some blogshop owners model for their own label, several others choose to employ other young women to model for them. These models are usually amateurs who hone their skills through experience, or as one model related to me, “through spamming YouTube videos and reading fashion magazines”. Some blogshop models are exclusively tied to one blogshop while many others are freelancers who model for as many as 30 blogshops at any point of their career.
Now that many blogshops are adopting the format of proper online stores ala international brands such as Forever21 and ASOS, how are local blogshops setting themselves apart from the flurry of online shopping websites? Why are some Singaporean blogshops more successful than others?
1) Foster vicarious consumption aka ‘If they can do it, so can I’
Like mainstream celebrity models, online blogshops entice consumers to desire and to seek, through vicarious consumption and emulation, the lifestyles of blogshop models who are young, feminine, successful and rich. To consume vicariously is to imagine oneself experiencing feelings and actions through another person’s actual feelings and actions; to live through someone else.
Unlike mainstream celebrity models whose bodies are merely passively employed by major brands and companies to showcase designer wear, blogshop models are independent entrepreneurs who actively appropriate their bodies to craft an online persona through the everyday accounts of their lives on their blogs, in a bid to foster intimacy with readers and attract them to make purchases.
Many blogshop owners and models own personal blogs in which they recount the mundane activities of everyday life. These revelations into the ‘backstage’ contrast the glitz and glamour portrayed by celebratory mainstream media reports that often focus on their commercial success, and lets readers and customers in ‘behind-the-scenes’ to experience the nitty gritty of the business and its associated lifestyle (i.e. product sourcing, photo-shoots, web design, modeling, make-up, etc.) Readers want to feel that on some level ‘these women are just like me’, trudging through hectic school or work schedules (true blue Singaporeans!) and fretting over banal issues like household chores, the bills, family commitments and above all, romantic relationships.
Akin to an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, being able to access these usually glamorous and successful women is a leveling experience that draws readers and customers to these women. In order to remain relatable to their readership, blogshop owners and models have to maintain a fine balance between marketing ‘up’ their distinctive style/appearance/lifestyle and retaining an attainable commonness or ‘girl-next-door’ vibe. The key is accessibility.
2) Empower women’s bodies aka ‘They make me feel good about my body’
In blogshops, women and women’s bodies are both active consumers of images (that is, women make conscious decisions about the types of body images they perceive, adopting some while rejecting others) and passive objects of consumption (that is, without their knowledge or against their will, some women’s bodies are viewed as yardsticks or standards by which other women compare their own bodies). Sociologist Connell terms this “social embodiment” (2002:47).
Similar to beauty pageant contestants (very well studied and documented by Banet-Weiser, 1999) and erotic dancers (as researched by Barton, 2002), blogshop models are caught in a paradoxical intersection between “feminine empowerment” and “feminine objectification” (Reischer & Koo, 2004:312). On the one hand, giving women the option/ability to refashion themselves through the products that blogshops market may give women a sense of agency and control to craft and personalise the ideal body that they desire; on the other hand, the business relies on the knit-picking on (and indeed, inventing of) supposed imperfections of women’s bodies in order to thrive.
In promoting their wares, it is common for blogshops to isolate women’s individual body parts and promote a particular apparel as being able to conceal “tummy bulges”, “thunder thighs”, or “flabby arms”. These draw on women’s insecurities and inevitably lowers their self-esteem. Blogshops that do well and encourage women to make purchases tend to be more affirmative of women’s bodies. Their product briefs claim to bring customers more confidence or advise that certain cuts/designs flatter women of particular body shapes/sizes. They give the impression that their goods are inclusive and that there is something for everyone (even if that is not actually the case as many customers have complained about the limited sizing of available apparel that specifically caters to slimmer women only). The key is to be body-positive.
3) Foster persona intimacy aka ‘I feel emotionally connected to the owner/model’
CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Kevin Roberts founded the concept of “Lovemarks” in 2004, as a tool to build emotional attachments between customers and brands. He argues that a product’s lifespan depends on its ability to command both intensive love and long-lasting respect from customers, through mystery, sensuality and intimacy, which are all evident in popular blogshops.
Unlike the product intimacy evaluated by Roberts, blogshops foster persona intimacy with customers by cultivating an emotional attachment not to the products per se but to the online personas of the owners and models via their blogs. This is especially important since it is very common for hordes of blogshops to be selling similar products at the same time, because the bulk of these businesses obtain their wares from a limited range of regional suppliers (another blogpost for next time!). Popular designs initiated by the more prominent blogshops also tend to be copied and sold by others within a short span of time, to the extent that it has become difficult to identify the mass of products with specific brands.
The blogshops with proliferate customer bases very often have distinctive and identifiable owners and models associated to their brand. This is the case when blogshop owners are themselves bloggers or when their models are exclusive to the blogshop. The focus then is not so much on the product being sold as opposed to the women pictured in it. Many customers and readers I have interviewed reveal that they have bought items because a blogger they admired pulled it off well in photographs, or because they admire her style. A very large group of women also cited sentiments along the lines of ‘I feel she is fashionable and successful, so everything she owns/sells must be a worthy purchase’. In a sense, these women become gatekeepers of fashion, with their personal style choices being held as the vanguard of trends. Then, what is alluring and captivates an audience is the brand ambassador or ‘face of the blogshop’, rather than the physical product. The key is to market the persona over the product.
To be continued…
There you have it – accessibility, body-positivity, and persona-marketing. These three features are common among the more commercially successful blogshop businesses in Singapore. However, bear in mind that these findings are a snapshot of longitudinal research on the commercial blog industry in South East Asia, based on in-depth Anthropological fieldwork in a specific timeframe (end 2000s to early 2010s). There are certainly more identifiable traits of commercially successful blogshops in Singapore, many of which are dialogical and complex, so I seek your patience while I tease them out. Till next time!
PS: This is my first attempt at writing a blogpost on my research aimed at a generic audience. I hope it has been digestible and would appreciate any feedback from you. Is there anything about the industry/research that you are curious about? Beep me!