The Nordstrom Anniversary Sale used to be the biggest event of the year for influencers on Instagram, the “Super Bowl of swipe-ups.” But this year, it seems that many of them are over it.
The retailer's annual sale has been going on for decades, but it took on a new zeal as shopping influencers made it a huge part of their brands. The influencers, inspired by the hefty commissions they could make from affiliate links during the sale, bombarded their followers with every gift guide under the sun.
Soon, having early access to the “#NSale” became a status symbol for influencers. The sale works in tiers; titles are bestowed upon the shopper based on how much money they spend at Nordstrom in the calendar year. The top status, “Icon,” goes to shoppers who spend a whopping $15,000. This year, Icons get to shop a full two weeks before the rest of the public, which is important because the items on sale are finite and often sell out.
Therefore, an influencer who is able to “shop the sale” earlier than their competition (because they bought enough during the year and became an Icon) has a clear leg up on others, who have to wait for full access to make their gift guides. It is a huge source of revenue for them; in 2018, Adweek reported that some influencers made the bulk of their income in the three weeks surrounding it.
Usually, Instagram at this point in the sale would be chock-full of influencers preparing their followers for the gift guides, showing off their purchases (in dozens of yellow Nordstrom bags), and posting endless “try-on haul” stories.
Not so much in 2021. In fact, several popular shopping influencers have declared this week that they are not as excited about the sale. Several of them have said that it has become oversaturated and full of diminishing returns. It’s likely that many will still post guides and swipe-ups during the next few weeks of the sale, but the content so far has been distinctly muted compared to that of previous years.
Jordan Underwood, a shopping influencer, told her more than 400,000 followers earlier this week that she’s feeling pressure from this year’s sale and isn’t jazzed about it. In years past, she said, she would cancel vacations and “fun things” to ensure she posted everything from the sale in a timely manner, which caused her stress.
"The pressure to have the best content first up before it sells out is so insane,” she wrote on her Instagram story. “Like, it literally takes the joy out of it.” (She didn’t return a request for comment.)
Daryl-Ann Denner, another big shopping influencer, told her followers this week that the sale has gotten “more and more scammy” every year.
“I used to love it,” she wrote in her story. “Now it feels like a marketing ploy.” (To be fair, it definitely is a marketing ploy and I don’t think has ever not been.)
More influencers, like Caitlin Covington of Southern Curls & Pearls and Whitney Buha of Something Whitty, wrote on their Instagram stories that they are happy to cover the sale if people want to hear about it, indicating that they'd sensed a shift in their followers' desires. Both asked in separate polls to their followers: Are you planning to shop the sale this year?
This change is interesting because of the reputation influencers have gotten surrounding the sale. Over the past several years, the sight of gaggles of influencers showing off their extensive purchases has begun to rub people the wrong way. Nordstrom customers started complaining that influencers and their die-hard fans had ruined the sale by buying up everything so early that there was nothing left for them when they were able to shop.
In response to the criticism, a spokesperson for Nordstrom told me that they are "focused on making it an exciting event for all our customers."
"We’ve heard the feedback and our approach to working with social influencers during this exciting time of year hasn’t changed," they said. "Anniversary Sale product is limited and we want all our customers to be able to shop the sale. Social influencers don’t get preferential treatment – we give them access to the sale the same way we would for any other customer."
As NoFilter reported last year, commenters flooded Nordstrom’s Instagram during last year’s sale, accusing the company of letting greedy influencers ruin the fun.
“Really disappointing that influencers share all these items for weeks and come sale day, everything is sold out,” one commenter said, according to the site.
The backlash grew even worse during the pandemic. People said that influencers spending over $10,000 to shop the sale early — during a year when the economy tanked and so many people lost their jobs — seemed particularly out of touch.
Now, it seems many influencers have read the room. Dani Austin told her more than 1 million followers this week that, while she plans to share her picks from the sale, she didn’t spend enough this year to shop early. (Influencers, they’re just like us!)
“Hopefully not everything is gone from our mall,” she said. “You have to spend a LOT to qualify.”
So what exactly is driving this shift? Hunter Strong Landa, who blogs at Navy and Orange, said it's been a confluence of factors for her.
Landa used to be all in on the sale, she told me, dragging her kids to the store on the first day she had access and posing for mirror selfie after mirror selfie. Even last year, she made a bulk order online and picked it up to ensure she could post content.
This year, though, she is reevaluating. She said she had found herself ordering things from the sale that she didn’t really need, just because they were popular items among bigger influencers or were trending on the LikeToKnowIt shopping app.
“There is kind of this weird ether with this sale and [LikeToKnowIt],” she said. “Everyone is posting and buying, so you feel like you should be doing the same. But then we [LikeToKnowIt bloggers] end up all promoting the same couple of products.”
For Landa, that oversaturation has led to diminishing returns. She has also been reevaluating her own actions as an influencer, saying that the last year has taught her a lot about how she wants to act on the platform.
“After seeing bloggers not address the BLM movement of last summer and other social injustices but linking endless links to the NSale, it made me realize that sometimes the business of influencing might be too focused on the bottom line instead of using the influence for good instead of just the Nordstrom sale,” she said.
This year, Landa said, her attitude is that she’ll promote if she gets around to it. She is currently spending time with family and said she isn’t so worried about keeping up with the influencer Joneses. Besides, she said, Nordstrom isn’t the only big retailer doing a summer sale.
“It also seems that there is constantly a sale that as [LikeToKnowIt] influencers we are encouraged to promote and link to. If one is looking to get a pair of Mother Denim on sale, this is not the only upcoming opportunity,” she said.
Even influencers who had never gone all out on the sale told me it has lost its luster.
Jess Kirby, who focuses on clean beauty and slow fashion on her page @jessannkirby, told me that while she never ran wild with the sale, she would usually plan a blog post and some Instagram content. This year, though, she is completely avoiding it.
“I just don’t like the pressure and push for consumerism that leaves people feeling like they ‘need’ things and are left out if they don’t buy from it,” she said.
She has built her brand around slow fashion, she said, so jumping on the #NSale rat race isn’t in line with her values.
“The reality is I’m not shopping it, so it doesn’t feel appropriate to share my NSale picks when there’s nothing I’m buying,” she said.
The shift in attitudes toward the sale likely reflects an overall shift in influencer culture. The industry got hammered over the past year for the actions of many influencers, who flaunted out-of-touch spending while many struggled, refused to acknowledge big societal movements like Black Lives Matter, and broke COVID-19 protocols. It seems a lot of influencers have realized that proudly proclaiming that you spent thousands of dollars at one department store last year isn’t the best look.
Another factor, and perhaps a more interesting one, is oversaturation. The original shopping influencers, many of whom have been blogging for a decade or more, pioneered making the Nordstrom sale the biggest swipe-up event of the summer. Their success has spurred thousands of copycats, all of whom are now promoting the sale in earnest, which is now making it harder and harder to stand out in the crowd. The best influencers have strong personal brands that followers trust and support. But when you're just posting the same content as everyone else, you kind of lose that charm. So it makes sense that many are trying to switch it up, even if it’s just linking out to a different sale or product.
But if you’re missing the usual explosion of #NSale content, don’t fret. There’s always Prime Day.