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A woman looking into a store from the outside. Photo: Ysa Pérez for Racked

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2016 Was the Year That Changed the Way We Shop

Breaking down this year’s major retail upheavals.

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The way we bought things in December 2015 is dramatically different from the way we’re buying things now. Over the course of the year, every aspect of how we come to own what we do has been overturned — from the way stores envision seasons to the way brands communicate with and sell to customers.

Much of the change is simply toward what makes the most sense. It makes sense to be able to buy a bathing suit in the summer and snow boots in the winter, and not the other way around. It makes sense to cut out the department store middlemen and go straight to the brand itself so that you don’t have to pay a markup for a cashmere sweater. And it makes sense to expect that your clothes will actually fit, and are maybe even tailored to your own measurements.

2016 was a year of buzzwords — “see now, buy now” and ”direct-to-consumer” chief among them — but those really are just that: phrases to describe the ways in which shopping has gotten a whole lot easier (though we still have a very long way to go). Here, we’ve broken down what this year meant for you, the shopper.

2016 Was the Year...

Burberry’s spring/summer 2016 show in London.
Photo: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images

See Now, Buy Now

by Eliza Brooke

For mass market brands, “see now, buy now” is the status quo. You go into a store or browse your favorite e-commerce site, you find a great pair of boots, and you drop some hard-won cash on them. Maybe you saw them on Instagram or your best friend or favorite blogger first, and that led you to checkout. This is how most of us shop, most of the time.

Designer brands traditionally present their work at fashion weeks half a year before it hits stores, showing fall clothing in February and spring looks in September, thus creating a lag between seeing and buying. But in 2016, the high fashion world was aflutter with talk of “see now, buy now” collections, as labels like Burberry, Tom Ford, Rebecca Minkoff, Thakoon, and Tommy Hilfiger decided to put pieces on sale immediately after their runway presentations. This movement was part of a broader conversation about the misalignment that has grown between how designers do business and how people shop today.

Offering clothing fresh off the runway changes how we buy it in a very immediate sense. During London Fashion Week in September, Burberry’s Soho store in New York held a private event at which it livestreamed its Orlando-inspired runway show (a mix of men’s and women’s styles) and then welcomed attendees upstairs to browse and buy the pajama tops, billowing blouses, and military jackets they’d just seen on the catwalk.

It was gratifying to get an unhurried, closer look at items of interest after they disappeared down the runway, and the fresh imprint of how Burberry’s legion of languid models looked in their outfits provided the momentary (misguided) inspiration to try out a neck ruff under a linebacker-style sweater, too.

A model in overalls holding a purple handbag Photo: Lo & Sons


by Chavie Lieber

In 2016, the brands finally came to us. The direct-to-consumer model — where companies circumvent the wholesale method and go straight to the shoppers online — has been around for some time, but this year it really hit its pinnacle. Bridal, denim, cashmere, leather jackets, and bras are just some of the categories that have been disrupted by DTC, and this year the list just kept getting longer.

Almost all of the brands who choose to go this route argue that it makes the most sense financially — both for the company and the consumer. Former Jimmy Choo chief creative officer and co-founder Tamara Mellon relaunched her eponymous shoe line this fall under the direct-to-consumer model, and told Racked that she believes "this is how the next generation of luxury brands are going to be built."

And DSTLD co-founder Mark Lynn adds that “the direct model allows for brands to share their story in a more competent, meaningful way, and [provides] customers with greater value.”

The brand Cuyana, for example, received plenty of attention from Racked this year because its leather bags, made in Italy and Argentina, cost some $400 less than the bags of similar quality selling at department stores. The same goes for DTC shoe brand M.Gemi, which makes its shoes in the same Italian leather factories luxury brands use, but the cost is much less when there are less partners involved.

It's a win for everyone — well, almost everyone (as you can expect, department stores have been hit the hardest because of DTC) — and a business model that is probably not going anywhere any time soon.

Photo: Reformation

Fast Contemporary Fashion

by Elana Fishman

What do shoppers love most about fast fashion? Is it the low prices? The fact that companies like Zara and H&M are often able to interpret and churn out trends faster than many luxury labels? Or is it the constant sense of newness that each visit to a Topshop or Forever 21 brings?

All three of these are valid answers, but 2016 was indisputably the year that higher-end brands began taking cues from fast fashion companies’ production schedules, delivering small batches of new merchandise on a weekly or biweekly basis. It’s the same strategy that’s made Inditex (Zara’s parent company) the biggest clothing retailer in the world, and left competitors that still adhere to traditional seasonal deliveries in the dust. It’s also nearly identical to the approach streetwear brands like Supreme have utilized for years.

You can’t discuss the “fast contemporary” phenomenon without mentioning Reformation. Founded in 2009 by designer Yael Aflalo, the brand was one of the first labels to offer limited-edition collections at a slightly higher (though still accessible) price point on an every-few-weeks basis. Before long, its printed sundresses, jumpsuits, and matching sets were selling out almost instantly — but rather than simply produce more to meet demand, Reformation smartly crafted a reputation as the ultimate blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fashion retailer.

As the company grew, securing additional funding and growing its staff, it began releasing new styles every week — but still, crucially, in those same limited runs.

A blogger on her cell phone standing on the street and holding a clutch Photo: Christian Vierig/Getty Images

Shopping on Instagram

by Ellie Krupnick

Since its 2010 inception, Instagram has always seemed like a natural fit for shopping. The app’s most popular photos are often products, the kind that would look at home on e-commerce sites or in catalogs. Users scroll through feeds looking for trends or bloggers whose fashion sense they can copy. Even non-fashion photos — a “flat lay” of a trainer’s workout outfit, or an enviably decorated living room — inspire us to seek out new products. It’s what the industry calls “discovery.”

All those thumbs poised above the “heart” icon could just as easily be hitting a “purchase” button.

A Pew Research Center survey found this month that 51 percent of US adults have bought something on a mobile phone, and 15 percent have bought something by following a link from social media. Instagram in particular is a home to shoppers; a 2015 survey of 16,000 users found that 70 percent have looked for a brand on Instagram.

But, barren of links, Instagram doesn’t lend itself to being truly “shoppable,” to use the industry jargon: You can’t easily drop links in captions, and there’s no “shopping cart” tool or place for credit card info in the app itself.

So over time, shopping on Instagram become a game of indirect, multi-step workarounds. The most familiar hack is to click to a website link pasted in a retailer’s bio (or click on an affiliate link from the likes of that non-retailers like magazines and bloggers post to earn a cut of cash).

The Margaux shoes custom fit kit Photo: Margaux

Custom (and Semi-Custom) Fits

by Tiffany Yannetta

Though made-to-measure brands certainly existed before 2016, a handful of them hit their stride at the exact same time this year, right alongside other retailers whose main prerogative was to get you the perfect fit — whether that be for a pair of shoes, a bra, a suit, or a wedding gown.

It’s not surprising that the service of offering custom apparel peaked in the menswear industry — retailers like Bonobos have built entire brands around helping men find one specific article of clothing (in this case, pants) that fits just right without the fuss of having to go to an actual store. Made-to-measure suits, though, was the biggest category to take off, thanks to companies like Indochino, J.Hilburn, Black Lapel, and Proper Suit. (Hey, finding a good suit is hard.)

Three of the big categories in womenswear that were ripe for “disruption,” as any good e-commerce startup would say, were footwear, bridal, and lingerie — all industries that have cumbersome in-store shopping experiences. Luckily, improving those shopping experiences was a priority for women’s brands in 2016.


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