The Briefing

What are ‘ghost stores’ on Instagram anyway?

Halloween might be over, but spooky stuff is still happening on Insta.

November 11, 2021
Reading time 2 min.

🌈 A quick taster for you:  

  • ‘Ghost stores’ give the impression that they’re selling high-quality clothing, but they’re actually just reselling cheap fast fashion. 
  • These stores are an example of greenwashing.
  • Before you buy: check whether or not something is fast fashion.

🧐 Why do I care?

Your Instagram feed may not be exactly as it seems! Every fourth post or story is probably an ad — and those ads are supposed to exactly match your taste... or at least what the Instagram algorithm thinks is your taste! But before you get drawn in and ‘swipe up’, it’s worth remembering that not every nice-looking brand is run by a strong woman selling handmade, fairtrade, zero-waste, vegan, climate-neutral clothes made in Portugal. Instead, the brand might be what is known as a ‘ghost store’. So, if there’s something strange, in your Instafeed, who you gonna call? OWWN-busters!

🔍 What exactly is happening here?

  • Boutique or bargain-basement?
    Instagram is full of online fashion stores, each with their stylish and clean designs that feel like they’d fit perfectly in our life. They’re all located in New York, London or somewhere in Europe, and of course they all exude a feeling of sustainability and give the impression that whatever they’re selling is locally produced. After all, the prices suggest that it’s not ‘fast fashion’ — a high price means high quality and fair working conditions, right? Nooooooooo. Not at all. Because alongside the truly sustainable and ethical online stores are a whole host of ‘ghost stores’!  
  • What are ‘ghost stores’?
    ‘Ghost stores’ give the impression that they’re selling high quality clothing, but the reality is quite different. Behind their beautiful facade, unfortunately, there’s nothing. No actual store. No actual designers. They just order the clothes from cheap fast fashion outlets on Amazon, Shein or AliExpress... and then they add on a massive margin and resell it in their Instagram ‘boutique’ at an inflated price. And those margins can be huge — a reporter from Business Insider, for example, paid $34 for a dress that was on sale for $10 on AliExpress.   
  • I ain't afraid of no ghost stores!
    It’s hard to admit that even though we've grown up with social media, in many ways we're more susceptible to online scams than the older generation. Influencer marketing and greenwashing tactics mean we’re often far too gullible about products that we’d be wise to take a second look at. ‘Ghost stores’ aren't illegal, but you can check how unique their products are — simply head over to Google Reverse Image Search, upload an image of the product, and you’ll see whether the same thing is available somewhere else at a cheaper price.

🤓 What does this mean for me?

We all love being able to buy cool things online and via Instagram. But next time, listen to your gut and do a reverse image search to check if the store really is as good as it seems. If you discover a ‘ghost store’, you can report it or hide the ad in your Instagram feed — that’ll help put an end to the spooky stuff! 

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