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What is dropshipping? Handy side hustle or problematic social media symptom?

What is dropshipping? Let’s break it down together. Put simply, it’s an order fulfilment model wherein a business selling goods doesn’t actually have any of its products in stock. When consumers buy these mystical items from such retailers, the businesses receive their orders and then forward them on to third-party suppliers for shipping. It might sound like a bizarre set up, but it’s far more common than you’d think. 

Dropshipping isn’t a new phenomenon, in fact it’s been around for a while. Huge e-commerce retailers, such as Wayfair and IKEA, use this business model on a large scale in order to sell and move goods worldwide. Today, however, dropshipping has transformed into a smaller, entrepreneurial side hustle that seemingly anyone can do as long as they have a semi-stable internet connection. However, it’s not as simple and carefree as it sounds. 

Why are there dropshipping influencers?

There are a number of online creators who produce content specifically to provide hopeful hustlers with dropshipping tips and tricks. YouTubers Austin Rabin and Jordan Welsh are very big in this arena, while an influencer whose page is aptly titled moneywithmac dominates the TikTok side of things.

Their stories are immediately enviable and, as so many of these scams are, they’re sold as being easily replicable. Rabin and Welch, for instance, are both 25-year-olds with more than six-figure incomes to their names, which they implore “you can do too” if you simply follow their step-by-step videos. 

However, when you dig a bit deeper, it appears that most people involved in dropshipping are actually losing money. Hoards of evidence of this can be found in the very helpful and always sarcastic subreddit dedicated to the trending business model. 

It’s easy to see why dropshipping is such an attractive venture for so many. The online fascination with the business model lies in its apparent ease, lack of upfront investment and of course the huge profits to be had. But the real money to be made in dropshipping seems to actually come from selling the one-on-one lessons and digital how-to-content that so many in the community peddle to unassuming victims who’re wanting to enter the marketplace. Doesn’t seem like a very fair deal to me. 

Built on hustle culture platitudes, these dropshipping influencers paint themselves as hugely successful and trustworthy business gurus. There’s a big catch though,  there’s often no way to verify whether or not their income is coming from their digital storefronts, or the advice that they’re selling to those hoping to get rich quick.. 

As explained by Vox reporter Terry Nguyen: “they are glorified pawns in the creator economy, a middleman monetising the secrets of his unverifiable “success” and marketing it to anyone willing to pay for it.”

How has social media impacted dropshipping?

Unfortunately, for those hoping to strike it rich with dropshipping, the market has now become highly oversaturated. The finite products that are available on Wish, AliExpress, Alibaba and other international suppliers favoured by dropshippers can now also be found on countless Shopify websites across the internet.

Take the website CozyToesCo for instance. The site is full to the brim with photos of Louis Vuitton cladded women wearing the coveted, sold-out mini UGGs—or, more accurately, a pair of cheap knock-offs. By reverse image searching the photos left in the reviews section, I’ve found several other websites selling the faux UGGs.

So why is dropshipping over-saturating the internet now? Just like ghost kitchens, dropshipping storefronts can be thought of as ghost stores. They’re a product of the increasingly symbiotic relationship between social media and shopping. 

If you’re a regular social media user, you’ve most likely engaged in ambient shopping, and you may have even purchased a product from a dropshipping website without realising it. Spooky, I know.

Ambient shopping, as defined by Nguyen, is “either actively looking to buy something, or being told to by targeted ads or influencers.” You might not initially think it, but social media is a fertile breeding ground for dropshipping.

Another internet activity that goes hand-in-hand with dropshipping? The infamous ‘TikTok made me buy it’ phenomenon. As of 2 February 2023, the tag #tiktokmademebuyit has more than 7.4 billion views, revealing just how many of our shopping decisions are fuelled by what we see on our phones and how a product can go viral at a moment’s notice. 

As social media scrolling and shopping become even more intertwined, consumers are more prone to impulse buying, meaning that in the heat of the moment, they probably aren’t paying as close attention to where they’re buying from. If you see that out-of-stock TikTok item you’ve been wanting on a Shopify storefront, chances are you won’t be reverse-image searching or checking out the website’s FAQs before purchasing.

The rise in popularity of Shopify can be linked directly to this uptick in dropshipping. Previously, online sellers hoping to drop ship would typically post their products on Amazon’s Fulfilment by Amazon (FBA) service—and many still do. Third-party sellers make up about 50 per cent of the retail giant’s commercial activity.

While Amazon does provide quality assurance on all items, they take a 15 percent commission on each product purchased through their site. For this reason, many sellers have jumped ship to dropship on Shopify. The storefront creation platform offers an easy—almost foolproof—way to design a functional, aesthetically pleasing website that directly links to overseas suppliers, like our highly problematic friend AliExpress. 

Ultimately, entrepreneurial dropshipping mimics large-scale global supply chain systems on a micro level, with success for some and loss for others. The real point here is perhaps how dropshipping businesses—at any level—profit from overseas labor by upcharging items without doing much, if any, actual work.

So, next time you purchase something in a TikTok-induced haze, be sure to consider where your product is coming from, whether you actually need it or not, and who it may be negatively impacting along the way.

From #MessyTikTok to #StayToxic, is social media sleuthing ruining your love life?

The daily doomscroll. On the toilet, in bed—wherever you’re doing it, just five minutes of flipping through your TikTok FYP represents an infinite number of ways in which you could come across a piece of information with the potential to ruin your day—and more often than not, your relationship too.

People are flocking to share intimate details of their love lives with complete strangers online. From #storytime and #messytiktok to #revengetok and #staytoxic, on TikTok, our deepest traumas can be triggered at any time with just a flick of our thumbs. This, in turn, begs the question: can watching these videos on a daily basis influence our own relationships? My personal opinion? Definitely. All too often.

Caught your boyfriend cheating? You can expose him, then douse everything he owns in glitter. Feeling lonely? A scroll through #breakuptok connects the ghosted, the breadcrumbed, and the unceremoniously dumped. A big trend is videoing oneself mid-breakdown. The dumpee might sob uncontrollably or stare into space, a single tear rolling down a puffy cheek. Most videos are overlaid with text narrating their story, ramped up with a sad song.


breakups are hard.💔

♬ original sound - Feelz

As an attempt at capturing and communicating the subject’s raw feelings, these videos can be upsetting, and even disturbing to watch (particularly if you’re going through, or have been through, something similar). While most users actively seek comfort and connection at a vulnerable moment in their lives, others want control and empowerment—and this is where things can get complicated.

Just check the comments under any viral video that details cheating, lying, or betrayal. Here, hundreds of users will lend support, detailing their own traumatic experiences, while others share tricks to prevent heartbreak and betrayal. Spoiler alert: you can’t really achieve the latter—but reading them will make you think you can.

Suspicious lovers swap notes on how to check a partner’s internet history to see if they’re cheating. Tinder users remind each other that you can check when your hook-up last used the app, because their geographical location updates each time they open it. Some even admit to looking at their ex’s Spotify playlists, searching for hidden meaning. Meanwhile, unrequited lovers screenshot their crush’s Snapscore to check if it’s just them they’re ignoring and some people even scrutinise their partner’s Venmo purchases looking for clues.

Seasoned sleuthers can go so far as to hack into or create fake Instagram accounts, specifically with the intent to monitor what their person of interest is doing. Some send text messages hoping to catch them red-handed by pretending to be someone else entirely, while others employ ‘honey trappers’ to test their partner’s loyalty. Many of these practices could be classed as cyberstalkinga criminal offence under American anti-stalking, slander, and harassment laws—plus, they’re detrimental to overall health and happiness.

Relationship expert Jessica Alderson told SCREENSHOT: “Many of the viewers of videos and comments like this would have never thought to conduct research like that. In addition, seeing other people social media sleuthing and telling their stories can make people insecure about their own relationships which, in turn, can cause them to do things that they wouldn’t have otherwise done. This is more likely to cause problems than provide solutions.”

Alderson went on to add: “It’s now easier than ever to look someone up online, and with that has come a greater potential for misuse. This can result in serious psychological consequences such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.”

Whether you’ve just been broken up with—drink your water, eat your vegetables, you’ve got this—you’re navigating a situationship, or you’ve been with your person for years, copying this TikTok activity puts you at risk of unnecessary issues and disputes.

Few of us could truly say that we’ve never engaged in a little light stalking. You know the drill—you meet someone new, give them a follow, and carry out a routine vibe check. It’s all too easy to find yourself lurking five years deep into their grid, doing everything not to accidentally tap the heart button as you note that their ex-partner is annoyingly beautiful, a great dancer, and speaks seven languages.

Suddenly, your mind works overtime to piece together the ‘evidence’ it has now gathered, weaving a (completely made up) narrative that clouds your thoughts. Out of nowhere, you might feel insecure, unsettled, and even a bit sad—a feeling that can linger.

You’ve given your brain the chance to ruminate on a person’s past—a past they are completely entitled to have. At best, you’ve robbed yourself of an opportunity to start fresh with this person, hearing their stories the way they wanted to tell them. At worst, you come out feeling less cool, fun, or attractive than previous people they’ve been close to. This can do nothing but hurt your relationship or hook-up, and it might stop it from happening altogether.

It’s a lose-lose situation. So, what do we do about it? For a lot of us, the process involves the hardest task of all: taking a break from social media altogether.

“Focus on making your life the best it can be. This might involve spending time with your friends, pursuing your passions, or taking on an extra project at work,” Alderson advised.

“Essentially, you want to divert your time and attention elsewhere, to activities that make a positive difference in your life,” she continued.

Easier said than done. Need some tips? Alderson’s got you covered:

– Practise mindful social media use. Take regular breaks from your devices and spend that time engaging in activities that don’t involve technology, such as physical exercise, reading, or creative hobbies.

– If you catch yourself feeling tempted to start looking up information about people online, pause and ask yourself what you’ll gain from doing it. Consider whether the risks outweigh the benefits. One point to be particularly mindful of is that what you see online may not be accurate, and it can often be misleading.

– Setting clear boundaries when it comes to looking people up online can help if you are prone to social media sleuthing. For some, this might involve not Googling someone until they hit a certain milestone, such as the fifth date or the ‘exclusive’ status in a relationship. For others, this could mean no social media sleuthing at all, or only looking up certain information once if you feel like it will improve your sense of safety on a date.

– Ask yourself whether your interest is coming from a healthy place. Wanting to discover more about someone you like is completely natural, but before looking them up online, reflect on whether your desire is coming from a healthy place or a place of insecurity. This is one of the best litmus tests to help figure out whether you should take a certain course of action.

What to do if you’ve become a victim of social media sleuthing

– Take steps to protect yourself online. This could include changing your privacy settings and being mindful of the information you share publicly. A social media audit is always a good idea, which involves going through all of your accounts and deleting or adjusting any information that you don’t want people to see.

– Give yourself time to grieve. This might take a while, and that’s okay. When someone has invaded your privacy in this way, it can be a traumatic experience. You want to ensure that you process your emotions as best as possible in order to reduce the risk of experiencing trust issues going forward. 

– If you’ve been a victim of social media sleuthing, you should seek help from people close to you or professionals. It can be hard to heal and move on.