Dupe it like it’s hot: Consider cost-effective alternatives to viral products

Two students urge their peers to purchase dupes of viral products to save money without sacrificing style.


When a hot new product takes social media by storm, users can expect an equally trendy “dupe” discovery to surge across the internet within just a couple of weeks. 

Dupe, short for duplicate, refers to less expensive alternatives to pricey or high-end products. Dupes are generally not considered counterfeit consumer products, but rather merchandise, like makeup, accessories or clothing, that looks and performs similarly to more pricey options. 

Social media users often boast their prized possessions, featuring some of the internet’s hottest products, like Stanley cups, lululemon merchandise and UGG shoes, which are often expensive. The viral 40-ounce Stanley water bottle retails for $45, far more than the average reusable water bottle, and the hard-to-get UGG Tazz slipper costs $130. 

While these items are highly coveted due to their virality, they can be unaffordable for many college students, but dupes can fill their place. Students should be open to more affordable and equally functional dupes to save money and mitigate costly consumerism habits.

College students average only $211 in discretionary or free-spending in their budget per month, according to data from Gitnux, an independent marketing firm that compiles business data.

After paying for rent, tuition, groceries and other necessities, the average college student is left with around just $50 per week to spend on non-essentials. These excess funds are often put toward dining or going out with friends, but with the rise of viral social media products, students may be sacrificing their money to conform to trends. 

Social media can put pressure on people to feel like they need to fit in through the consumption process, said Mary Conran, a marketing professor and the associate dean of Fox School of Business. 

“I think right now, a lot of this has to do with wanting to belong, and seeing trends happening and wanting to be part of that,” Conran said. 

Social media induces peer pressure, which can manifest itself in the consumer process. Owning a popular good can improve feelings of belonging and self-satisfaction but can ultimately have a costly impact.

Most college students don’t have the budget to spend money on products for their virality rather than their functionality. A week’s worth of spending money could be gone in an instant with the purchase of one Stanley water bottle when a reusable water bottle from Walmart or Amazon can perform the same job at a significantly lower cost.

“In general, if you’re buying a product at a lower price, it shouldn’t matter,” Conran said. “Students should be taking a look at what they’re trying to achieve and then make a decision, not what other people will think, they’re more interested really in how they’re going to feel in that situation.”

Viral or not, students should purchase the products they like and feel will work for them. There’s no shame in buying a dupe as long as it works efficiently. A person owning something functional that they want and can afford is a better long-term option than fitting into a current trend or spending money on unnecessary goods.

Dupes are beneficial but can also be made, sourced and sold unethically, especially from websites like Shein and AliExpress. Students should avoid fast fashion and drop shipping companies when they can and only purchase products that function similarly rather than cheap knockoffs. They should also limit dupe purchases to products they truly want or need to avoid unnecessary overconsumption. 

Grace Mitchell uses several dupes in her daily life, like trading the Charlotte Tilbury Hollywood Flawless Filter foundation for the e.l.f Halo Glow, but occasionally purchases viral products when she sees them repeatedly on social media.

“Usually I watch the videos, like reviews on TikTok, and then I buy it and I determine if I actually like it or not,” said Mitchell, a freshman finance major. 

Drugstore makeup brands, like e.l.f. Cosmetics are known to dupe products from more expensive brands, like Charlotte Tilbury. e.l.f.’s Halo Glow foundation, for example, costs just $14 and can be purchased in drug stores like CVS while the Charlotte Tilbury Hollywood Flawless Filter is $49 and only sold in person at Sephora.

Both products are known to perform similarly despite the massive price disparity. Although a dupe may not have the same prestige, it often achieves the same outcome and saves students money at the same time.

Purchasing dupes doesn’t have to mean compromising style either. Dupes can provide students with a working product they need and also allow them to express their own unique tastes.

Olivia Brown relies on thrifting in Philadelphia to create new, distinctive and affordable outfits, which she considers an alternative to purchasing more expensive, viral clothing.

“Thrifting here has been great,” said Brown, a sophomore theater major. “I think secondhand clothing is probably dupes for me.”

Philadelphia has an abundance of thrift stores throughout the city, like Philly AIDS Thrift on 5th Street near Bainbridge and Urban Exchange Project on Frankford Avenue near Susquehanna, that provide students with the unique opportunity to purchase items while remaining eco-friendly and fashionable. 

“[My friend] has also shown me Urban Exchange, which has a decent amount of stuff,” Brown said. “I didn’t have thrifting when I was in high school because I lived in the middle of nowhere, but here I would say it’s better.”

Social media can make it hard for students to be aware of their budget and needs because they are engulfed by a consumerism mindset. Instead of buying what’s popular, students should evaluate what they enjoy and consider products that are just as effective at a lower price.

It’s not necessary to sacrifice limited budgets on viral products, and it’s okay to prioritize practicality over conformity. By embracing dupes, students can own quality products and save money.

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