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Social Media and Ethically Informed Global Supply Chain

Social Platforms and B2C Relationship Arena

Today’s business paradigm is filled with a variety of approaches aimed at enhancing one’s capabilities and financial impact on a certain industry. The notion of enhanced business development has become even more meaningful in the context of globalization, as the process of pooling efforts for the sake of maximum benefit tends to attract many business owners. However, if previously, the concept of business conduction was primarily focused on obtaining profit, modern approaches to management encompass a variety of ethical concerns in terms of communication with customers and other stakeholders (Babenko et al., 2019).

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As a result, the paradigm of strategies employed in business has now become rather digitalized, with the retail trends being more focused on the customers’ needs. The primary goal of the following report is to assess social media platforms as major influencers of the modern B2C cooperation model, paying specific attention to the emerging trend of sustainable manufacturing in apparel industries.

Characteristics of Social media as B2C Communication Means

To begin with, it is of crucial importance to define some of the most significant features of the B2C (business-to-customer) relationship patterns in order to define the requirements for social media communication channels. The B2C model of business cooperation stands for selling goods directly to the end-users of the product by means of active engagement in the retail process and efficient marketing strategies (Vrontis, Thrassou, and Amirkhanpour, 2017).

Thus, one of the primary features of B2C communication is the utilization of tools that would render the information directly to the product consumer as fast as possible. Social platforms have now, by all means, become some of the most time- and cost-efficient means of advertisement and potential client targeting. As a result, there is a number of social media platforms’ characteristics that make them a vital part of the communication with external customers, including:

  • Cost-efficiency. When speaking of the peculiarities of B2C communication with external customers, it is necessary to assess the approximate benefit as a primary outcome of the campaigns involved. Thus, according to the statistics, the investments in social media campaigns proved to bring almost 40% more revenue per enterprise (DMI, 2020).
  • Customization. As far as communication with external customers is concerned, it is of crucial importance to define some of the basic needs of the chosen audience in order to secure the best conversion rates. Hence, in the following context, the algorithms of social platforms allow the client to generate the primary needs and interests of middle-class European residents aged 20-25 years. Finally, the customization of the service allows the company to gain a major competitive advantage in the market filled with recognized apparel brands.
  • Customer satisfaction. The variety of today’s business enterprises creates a so-called effect of dehumanization, as customers do not feel the desired level of attachment to the brand through the rapid automatization of the B2C communication patterns. However, as far as social media platforms are concerned, both the brand and the customer feel the benefits of proper communication, as the customer tends to feel heard while the company obtains explicit feedback on the workflow (Juha, 2019).
  • Opinion-shaping process. The modern retail market has gone far beyond creating clothes that would appeal to the customer’s fashion and financial abilities. Today’s brand management is primarily focused on a meaningful story behind the apparel introduced, providing customers with the ability to contribute to a greater cause (Juha, 2019). Hence, social media platforms allow the company to communicate with the customer in a way that conveys a specific idea besides a plain purchase, with an enterprise presenting itself as an opinion leader.

Case Study: H&M Perspective

To obtain a better understanding of the aforementioned framework, a case scenario of the H&M B2C communication patterns will be presented. To begin with, it is of crucial importance to define the peculiarities of the target audience for a chosen B2C framework. According to the clients’ request, the average age of the target client is between 20-25 years, i.e., the major population segment for the social media marketing campaign is the so-called population of millennials.

According to the latest data, up to 90% of the population aged 18-29 spend more than six hours on social media per day, as these resources play the most crucial role in terms of obtaining information required to make a decision (Janicke, Narayan, and Seng, 2018). Thus, when it comes to the notion of social media as a means of B2C communication, it may be concluded that the vast majority of modern retail stores related to clothing are now inevitably engaging with social media campaigns.

Speaking of H&M, in particular, some of its latest social media B2C communication channels may be introduced. To begin with, Facebook, by all means, remains the most beneficial choice, as the average price paid for advertising and communication is more than affordable considering the analytics it provides to the company. H&M, thus, explicitly uses Facebook to calculate the algorithms of marketing resource distribution and targeting, taking into account the users’ location, search histories, public information, and age group (Pratap, 2017). Moreover, official H&M social media pages are extremely relevant in terms of the user satisfaction rate, customers have the chance to express their gratitude or concerns with the retail store managers in real-time.

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Another important means of B2C communication for the brand is Instagram and Twitter, as they are some of the most significant tools for engagement with the customers in the digital paradigm. Thus, one of the most efficient B2C communication assets for the brand is the introduction of various social media hashtags tailored for a specific campaign. For example, over the past decade, hashtags like #HMBeckham, #HMDivideOpinion, and #HMLovesMusic have engaged millions of millennials and social media users to share their experience with the brand while pursuing the chance to obtain a series of valuable prizes (Pratap, 2017). Moreover, these campaigns have contributed significantly to the opinion-shaping process, helping customers feel more attached to the brand vision and major values.

Case Study: Zara Perspective

Zara, being a part of Inditex apparel company, has now become one of the most popular fast-fashion retail stores in the world. Hence, it goes without saying that the enterprise itself is rather focused on maintaining communication with stakeholders via social media platforms, with the strategies being divided between simple information updates and full-scale social media campaigns (Alonso-Cañadas et al., 2018).

However, as far as Zara is concerned, the brand itself has now become so popular among target audience (women aged 24-35) that it did not have the need to invest in the B2C social media communication. According to the report, the company chose to spend money saved on social media campaigns on the opening of new retail stores worldwide, making it one of the most widespread brands across the globe (SCM Globe, 2020). Still, Zara pays much attention to the communication with customers over social media platforms in order to obtain proper feedback from the purchasers.

Considering the case studies of H&M and Zara, another aspect of the extensive social media use should be considered as well prior to creating a working strategy. Over the past decades, besides successful campaigns, the company has initiated various conflicts that were criticized on social media platforms, such as ‘the coolest monkey in the jungle’ scandal or inappropriacy cultural accusations (Mensah and Osman, 2018).

In such cases, it is of crucial importance to already know the average profile of a potential customer in order to handle the crisis through the same channels of communication (Wenny, 2020). As a result, it may be defined that the process of business communication with external customers cannot exist without the explicit interference of social media platforms. However, while there is a variety of advantages in terms of addressing social media, the scope of brand social responsibility should also be taken into consideration.

Ethically Informed Supply Chain

Today’s fashion industry, especially when it comes to the notion of mass-market and global retail, is extremely preoccupied with the ethical norms adhered to within the context of manufacturing and sales. Previously, the patterns of the fashion industry were mostly focused on the final outcomes of the manufacturing, i.e., the quality of garment and relevance in the consumer market (Blanchet, 2017). However, over the past years, the so-called ‘fast fashion’ industry has been extremely criticized due to the major breaches in ethical considerations as far as work ethics and sustainability are concerned. As a result, various mass fashion brands started paying much attention to the working conditions and supply chain sustainability in order to remain relevant in the context of the 21st century.

Fashion Segment Supply Chain Concerns

As of the beginning of 2016, sustainable fashion was a niche product that constituted approximately 1% of the overall segment (Crane, 2016). At first, such a dooming tendency was rather dependent on the lack of consumer interest in the segment, with few purchasers paying attention to the issue of clothes manufacturing. However, over the years, the overall tendency has shifted towards an ethical and sustainable model of production. The two major concerns of the customers in terms of ethics may be outlined as follows:

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  • Sustainable production. Today’s global preoccupation with the environment has become one of the central matters for discussion on all social levels, as the outcomes of negligence are now extremely evident on the people’s lifestyles and the planetary ecosystem as a whole. According to estimations, 10% of global carbon emissions and nearly 20% of the wastewater belong to the modern fashion industry (Ro, 2020). In order to address the issue, many opinion leaders throughout the world started to use their influence to encourage people ‘go green,’ paying specific attention to the hazards of fashion consumption. Hence, today’s society, being influenced by a variety of ecological factors, take into account the specifics of clothing manufacturing (e.g., quality and type of garment materials).
  • Labor conditions in the workplace. As far as the fast fashion industry is concerned, the focus is primarily made on the quantity and accessibility of the final product. As a result, the fashion segment was usually associated with poor workplace conditions, as the workers were to perform maximum effort for extremely low pay (Pero, Arrigo, and Fionda-Douglas, 2020). Moreover, the industry generally located its factories in developing countries in order to save money on salaries and venue maintenance, leading to high levels of criticism and accusations of social discrimination and ignorance. Nowadays, the tendency has shifted towards increasing work ethics in the segment, but the realization of the following intention still remains rather vague, as it lacks empirical data (Pero, Arrigo, and Fionda-Douglas, 2020).

Case Study: H&M Perspective

Considering the aforementioned aspects, it is of crucial importance to assess an example of sustainable supply chain introduction to the industry conducted by H&M at the beginning of 2020. Hence, as a company that faced major challenges in terms of communication with customers, H&M decided to support the idea of ecologically friendly fashion tendencies by introducing the initiation of collaboration with the Swedish enterprise ‘Re:newcell’ (Petter, 2020). The following company is focused on producing material called Circulose, which is made of fashion waste and recycled garment.

On the one hand, such a collaboration idea has become of crucial significance for the overall industry, drawing the attention of the major stakeholders and customers, in particular. However, according to critics, one of the major issues of fast fashion is the number of end-products produced compared to the number of clothes that are eventually recycled (Petter, 2020).

Thus, the primary purpose of the fashion segment today is to define the ways to reduce the consumerism rates among customers instead of proposing a more ecological way to contaminate the planet. Another concern of the following initiative is the fact that the introduction of a new fabric will not eradicate the ecological hazard of mass production whatsoever. Hence, the notion of sustainable manufacturing remains rather questionable in the industry, promoting the idea of greenwashing instead. Greenwashing may be defined as a marketing tool for the industries to create an image of sustainable manufacturing in order to increase the sales rate (De Jong, Harkink, and Barth, 2018).

Having taken everything into consideration, it may be concluded that the modern fashion industry, despite various attempts, cannot claim itself to be absolutely sustainable. Hence, the only thing that a business owner may do in the current situation is ensuring that the existing patterns of environmental policies are adhered to, even is the outcome affects the price of the end product, as today’s customers have the tendency to pay much attention to the context of the item they buy. Moreover, fair price politics positively influence customers’ purchasing intentions, as they might then consider buying fewer sustainable items and creating less harm to the environment.

Case Study: Zara Perspective

Like H&M, Zara is generally considered to be a fast-fashion brand that draws the customers’ attention with the help of affordable yet stylish clothing. However, whereas it is typical for such companies to introduce new apparel collections every two or three months, Zara is famous for presenting new garments twice a month, providing the customers with the opportunity to access a wider variety of clothing for a reasonable price (SCM Globe, 2020). Considering the number of clothes manufactured in 2019, Inditex made a decision to announce the start of their ‘greening’ policy, promising to use 100% environmentally friendly fabric and renewable energy sources by the year 2025 (Conlon, 2019). In fact, the company even claimed that the vast majority of the goal had been already accomplished by the time of the announcement. Another aspect of supply chain management presupposes the allocation of human resources along the process of manufacturing.

As it was previously mentioned in the paper, the fast fashion industry is considered to be one of the most dehumanizing industries in terms of the financial labor reward and conditions. However, according to the reports, Zara is one of the few companies that pays much attention to employee hiring and relatively high average wages per worker (SCM Globe, 2020). Considering the aforementioned aspects, it may be concluded that Zara is rather focused on sustainability control in terms of all the supply chain stages. Still, the company, like in the H&M case, has been criticized for supporting fast fashion as a notion, as it destroys the idea of sustainability as a whole.

Sustainable Supply Chain Patterns

Speaking of the fashion industry sustainable supply chain as a concept, it is of crucial importance to dwell upon the overall stages and stakeholders of the process in order to define the scope of its importance. For the business to be considered sustainable, it is of crucial importance to secure the safety of every stakeholder and environment in general, as the image of sustainability no longer makes sense without explicit proof. On the examples of companies like Nike, which has recently introduced a collection of sneakers made from recycled plastic, it becomes evident that modern industry makes no emphasis on the number of goods sold (Fung, Choi, and Liu, 2020). Hence, the profitability of the fashion industry currently depends on its ecological awareness and loyalty to the customers that seek sustainable and affordable clothing.

Finally, the notion of fashion is, by definition, inseparable from the modern trends and concepts, as it cannot exist without references to the things that bother and attract the society. Thus, it goes without saying that today’s B2C communication in fashion is closely correlated with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic that has changed human lifestyle almost irreversibly. In the context of fashion, the following precedent has influenced both human relationships with social media and sustainability, as these things are now integral parts of the lives of most international customers.

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According to the latest reports, the fashion industry profits, while expected to fall by 93% by the end of the year, has the ability to take enough time to redevelop the supply chain and sustainability model, as the whole market is now experiencing considerable losses with minor businesses remaining at an advantage (Amed et al., 2020). Hence, having considered modern empirical approaches to the issue of sustainability in the fashion sector, it may be concluded that despite any existing external factors and circumstances, sustainability along the supply chain should be preserved by the company to remain relevant in the market. Moreover, the brand may use social media platforms to raise the public’s awareness on the topic while updating the target audience on the matter of its ecological and ethical consciousness.

Recommendations on Further Development

The aforementioned commentaries contain some major information in terms of the client’s further directions in the field of the fashion industry and communication with the customers within the segment. Hence, having analyzed the empirical data provided by the examples of notorious brands like H&M, the following recommendations on further activity may be outlined:

  • Social media campaign introduction. Today’s marketing context, especially as far as the pandemic outbreak is concerned, is primarily focused on the social media tools that serve as one of the most effective means of direct communication with the audience. Moreover, since customers tend to feel more secure about the brands with active social media presence, there is a better chance of attracting their attention to the goods through the implicit influence of social media platforms. A chosen campaign should not necessarily contain aggressive marketing strategies, as their efficiency is now questionable. Instead, it would be highly productive to create a collaboration with other companies focused on sustainable consumption and provide potential customers with sponsored educational content. The introduction of a viral social media hashtag may also be of great use in campaign implementation.
  • Conducting extensive research on the current supply chain sustainability trends in the industry. Today’s tendencies on sustainability in fashion are mostly theoretical, with little empirical data available to form the actual production frameworks. Hence, when entering the market, it is of crucial importance to invest money in the meticulous study compiled from the figures presented by the competitive enterprises in order to develop an efficient, sustainable strategy.
  • Shifting the focus from fast fashion production. Although the patterns of fast fashion manufacturing are tempting for the companies entering the market, the era of their triumph is now gradually fading, as the emphasis is placed on the ‘slow fashion,’ – manufacturing that plays major attention to the aspects of environmental quality, and lifecycle of the garment.

Hence, having considered the following recommendations, it may be concluded that today’s fashion industry is highly dependent on the social trends that prevail in the world community, with the end product being inseparable from the process of its production process. Such tendencies in the 21st century are primarily concerned with business-to-customer communication through social media and the notion of sustainability within the retail supply chain. Hence, there is no other way but to build the brand strategy upon these concepts.

Reference List

Alonso-Cañadas, J., Galán-Valdivieso, F., Saraite-Sariene, L. and Gálvez-Rodríguez, M.D.M. (2018) ‘Using social media to enhance stakeholder engagement in the fashion industry: the case of Inditex’, Cuadernos de Administración (Universidad del Valle), 34(61), pp.3-16.

Amed, A., Balchandani, A., Berg, A., Jensen, J. E., and Rölkens, F. (2020) The state of fashion 2021: In search of promise in perilous times . Web.

Babenko, V., Kulczyk, Z., Perevosova, I., Syniavska, O. and Davydova, O. (2019) ‘Factors of the development of international e-commerce under the conditions of globalization’, In SHS Web of Conferences (Vol. 65, p. 04016). EDP Sciences.

Blanchet, V. (2017) ‘‘We make markets’: The role of the Ethical Fashion Show in categorising the ethical fashion’, Recherche et Applications en Marketing (English Edition), 32(2), pp.26-45.

Conclon, S. (2019) Zara clothes to be made from 100% sustainable fabrics by 2025. Web.

Crane, D. (2016) ‘The puzzle of the ethical fashion consumer: Implications for the future of the fashion system’, International Journal of Fashion Studies, 3(2), pp.249-265.

De Jong, M.D., Harkink, K.M. and Barth, S. (2018) ‘Making green stuff? Effects of corporate greenwashing on consumers’, Journal of business and technical communication, 32(1), pp.77-112.

Digital Marketing Institute (DMI) (2020) The cost of social media advertising: Where’s the value?. Web.

Fung, Y.N., Choi, T.M. and Liu, R. (2020) ‘Sustainable planning strategies in supply chain systems: proposal and applications with a real case study in fashion’, Production Planning & Control, 31(11-12), pp.883-902.

Janicke, S.H., Narayan, A. and Seng, A. (2018) ‘Social media for good? A survey on millennials’ inspirational social media use’, The Journal of Social Media in Society, 7(2), pp.120-140.

Juha, J.J. (2019) ‘Social media marketing for the growth of an organization in the 21st century’, Global Journal of Management And Business Research, 19(3), pp. 1-7.

Mensah, F. and Osman, T. (2018) Communicating through social media to regain stakeholders trust during crises: A case study about H&M (Bachelor Thesis, Högskolan Kristianstad)

Pero, M., Arrigo, E. and Fionda-Douglas, A. (2020) ‘Sustainability in fashion brands’, Sustainability, 12(14), 5843.

Petter, O. (2020) H&M accused of ‘greenwashing’ over plans to make clothes from sustainable fabric. Web.

Pratap, A. (2020) Social media strategy of H&M (Hennes & Mauritz) . Web.

Ro, C. (2020) Can fashion ever be sustainable? Web.

SCM Globe. (2020) Zara clothing company supply chain. Web.

Vrontis, D., Thrassou, A. and Amirkhanpour, M. (2017) ‘B2C smart retailing: A consumer-focused value-based analysis of interactions and synergies’, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 124, pp. 271-282.

Wenny, W. (2020) The influence of using social media marketing towards customer loyalty at H&M, Medan (Doctoral dissertation, Universitas Pelita Harapan).

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