Cash-strapped millennials curate style via social media

Susan Nguyen | 10/16/2012, 10:23 p.m.
She's not really brand-loyal, since she can't afford the ones she likes at full price, "but secondhand isn't so bad." ...

She's not really brand-loyal, since she can't afford the ones she likes at full price, "but secondhand isn't so bad." Instead, she tends to gravitate toward whatever fits her style and budget, which could be a pair of lightly used Banana Republic chinos one day or a vintage oversized tunic and tangerine leggings the next.

"I am drawn to things that are different, that I'm not going to be able to find just by shopping in the mall," said Jasper, 26, of Nashua, New Hampshire. "More than anything, it's about the look. I'm not afraid to pick up anything no-name if I like it."

It's a fairly conventional approach to personal style until she gets home, takes pictures of herself modeling the clothing and uploads them to Copious, an online marketplace that lets her share, buy and sell items. If she doesn't like pieces for herself, she posts them for sale on her page and shares them with followers from a variety of sources, including Facebook and Twitter. When someone "likes" a dress on Jasper's profile, her social media followers are notified, along with followers of the person who liked the dress, creating web of notifications that feeds back to Jasper's page.

It may sound complicated to the uninitiated, but Jasper is hooked, and not just because it's a place to buy and sell. She's used platforms like Etsy and Suvi, but none of them came close to the interactive community she has found on Copious, she said.

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"I really like that it's so social and tied into the people you like and what you like and what you express interest in," she said. "It kind of molds itself around you."

Personalized shopping and browsing experiences

Technology and social networking distinguish Jasper and her peers from previous generations of shoppers in the eyes of brands, retailers and market researchers. By creating personalized shopping experiences around themselves, millennials are upending the traditional consumer-brand hierarchy, leaving brands and retailers scrambling to reclaim their influence.

"Millennials are at the forefront of the change in the retail landscape, based on their adoption of online and virtual behavior," said Ana Nennig, executive vice president of global consulting firm Havas PR.

"As the first generation that truly embraced instantaneous gratification, they mixed with that a desire to be fiscally aware of pricing and value and set the ground for shopping attributes (that) other generations and groups are adopting."

That doesn't mean millennials are completely brand-agnostic, Nennig said. They just put more time and effort into finding brands they identify with in terms of voice and social agenda. Conversely, brands are investing more of their identity into social agendas, fromTOMS Shoes' "one pair sold, one pair donated" business model to west elm's collaborations with Etsy artists.

"For millennials, brands are an essential way of identifying, expressing and supporting what they find personally important. Using brands that embody their values makes them feel good," she said. "Retailers also need to keep in mind that millennials tend to seek brands and products that are socially responsible; this generation is looking for products that are sustainable, fair-trade and offer lower carbon footprints, for example."