The Shopping Spiral: YouTube’s Dangerous Haul Culture

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The issue of YouTube ‘hauls’ is a tricky one.

For those of you who have not come across one on your internet travels, its effectively a lengthy video where the YouTube starlet films themselves talking about whatever it is they’ve purchased. Internet celeb, Zoella, posts regular Primark hauls which is a more accessible price-point for her younger viewers and other popular content creators upload ASOS and Topshop hauls on the regular where they engage their viewers in a discussion about the items and current trends. The problematic aspect, however, is the surge in ‘luxury hauls’ where YouTubers will spend thousands on the latest trend pieces and include them in a video that presents itself as your average weekly shop. I completely appreciate that what people choose to spend their money on is an entirely private matter that does not need to be commented on. Love fashion? Have the funds to indulge in several designers pieces a year? Go for it, it’s none of my business. However, when your job includes talking about fashion and beauty on the internet, this is when things get complicated….

As little as five years ago, not many people would know what you were talking about when it came to YouTubers, Bloggers, and Vloggers. Going on a shopping spree, filming yourself talking through each item, and then putting it on the internet for the whole world to see was not really the ‘done’ thing. Who would want to watch a ten-minute video of a stranger showing off their latest Topshop purchases? Turns out, a lot of people would. In fact, over three million people tuned into internet-sensation, Zoella’s last ASOS haul in June 2016. But perhaps it is misleading to quote the figures of one of the most successful YouTubers of our time. For less well-known YouTubers (who are still successful enough to have made a career out of video content), ‘haul’ videos typically rack up around 100,000 views. That’s still a mind-boggling amount of people who regularly watch these videos in their entirety. I confess that I am one of them. I love nothing more than being nosy and seeing what my favourite blogger/youtuber combos are buying this season.

The hugely popular Victoria Magarth of the ‘inthefrow’ YouTube channel and blog is specifically guilty of promoting unhealthy  spending habits. I’ve been subscribed to Victoria’s channel for years but find the regularity of her ‘luxury hauls’ alarming. In the past year alone, she has posted nine of these hauls with the sum of the products featured totalling over £5,000 each time. I couldn’t quite believe it as I was adding the figures up.

What a lot of YouTubers fail to mention is that when they kindly ‘link everything below’ (internet links to the sites where you can buy the products mentioned), is that they make a percentage off their viewers buying the same items if purchased within a 48-hour window of that first click. In light of this, it is therefore in inthefrow’s financial interest to purchase (or be gifted) more expensive items which benefits her if impressionable viewers follow suit and indulge themselves. I wonder if viewers would be so happy to buy straight from their idol’s wardrobe if the financial perks of affiliate links were common knowledge.

Although it’s great to have an online community of like-minded people who similarly enjoy fashion, it’s worth considering that inthefrow’s audience tend to be a younger demographic who may now have a very skewed idea of what is ‘normal’ spending. Even though the creator varies her content with regular ‘Luxury Look for Less’ videos, where she finds ASOS dupes of designer items, it’s the consistency of her luxury spending hauls which are key for normalising a reckless, ‘binge-shopping’ mentality. Especially when you consider her younger, more impressionable audience who look up to her. Whether they signed up for it or not, YouTubers have fast become role models for a lot of young people and they need to cater their content accordingly.

I am certainly not alone in how I feel about YouTube’s haul culture. At the end of 2016, a new video started doing the rounds on YouTube called the ‘Anti-Haul: Things I’m not going to Buy’ where other stars comically rejected the fad-trend. Fellow Brighton-dweller and Whistles-enthusiast, The Anna Edit, published her own take on this where she declared that she would also not buy into the trends of chokers and bomber jackets and was content with her wardrobe how it is, thank you very much. Safe to say, she is my blogger girl-crush.

YouTube’s ‘haul culture’ is only going to continue growing as more people continue tuning in and, when all is said and done, I will most likely be one of them. Although it’s important to be aware of when online creators are truly endorsing an item and when it’s an #ad, the thing about YouTube is that it needs to be watched with a pinch of salt. For a lot of creators, it’s how they make their living – which is great! – but as the site continues to grow, it’s important to stay clued up as to how it works and which online creators to trust. Equally, what is a ‘normal’ amount of money to spend on fashion is a very subjective matter; it’s only when you’re inviting the internet to pass judgement and watch that it becomes problematic. So although ‘hauls’ may not be the most student-friendly, there’s nothing wrong with a little shopping escapism from time to time. In my case, I’ll just be keeping it strictly high-street.

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Third Year English Literature Student. Deputy Lifestyle Editor of The Wessex Scene. Lipstick hoarder and literature enthusiast.

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