The Kinder Shopper

By Neerja Singh


Boomers To Zoomers

In 1998, my husband and I visited Kansas City to attend our niece’s wedding. We carried the traditional, crimson red wedding “lehenga” for the bride. It had been painstakingly made by hand in an extended family boutique. The weight and volume really tested us on the international flight.

A few years later, it was the bride’s sister, our other niece announcing her marriage. “What will the color be this time?” I remember thinking. Imagine my surprise when I learnt she was going to use her sister’s wedding dress, thank you. Her decision made a vague sense to me back then, it makes perfect sense today. She was a zoomer before her time!

A big shift is happening in the world of buying and selling. Did you think for instance that it is just the Indians sweating a bargain? Price has begun to excite the zoomer as much; in fact it is emerging as their primary motivator when shopping. And this is not for lack of money, their Gen X parents provide well and many have their personal sources of income.

And the difference does not stop at just the price but in the entire shopping experience. Going to a physical store to try out clothes is becoming rarer, the zoomer shops mostly online. And if they don’t like what arrives, well, they can always sell it back online!

This is the new wave of consumers a brand’s online selling strategy has to serve. The problem is, these shoppers between the ages of 13 and 21, who are gearing up to enter the workforce find it impossible to be loyal to a brand. What could be the reasons for this fickleness? One, the brands are too expensive and two, the zoomers come armed with their smartphones, they have the agile ability to instantly verify anything online.

I see it in my own family. It is hard to get our family zoomers to match the enthusiasm of their grandmother for an expensive jaunt to the 17 Sector in Chandigarh. The young meander around listlessly while my mother tires out slowly, fighting to keep a cheerful face through the obvious indifference her precious grandchildren show to the big brands all around them. I remember being miffed at her disappointment until a friend sent me the Whatsapp promo of “Mumbai’s first curated exhibit of Indian Upcycling designers.” It read like the epitaph of the big guns in the market. The brands featuring at this event had names like ‘We are labeless’ and ‘Slow’ and ‘LataSita’ and ‘Swavlambi’.  

Amrita Neelakantan, a speaker and thought leader at the event, Conservation scientist with a Ph.D. from Columbia University, now teaching at the NIFT Delhi, spoke of her venture “Black Orchid”. The new fashion initiative suggested a different perspective on clothing. Their essential idea was SURE-Sustainably Use Reduce Exchange ecosystem for clothing. You could buy a dress, wear it, swap with other items for only postage and a nominal cleaning fee. Perfect ecological, social and financial sense, the zoomer way.

It stands to reason that unconventional forms of shopping such as these involving rental and resale would serve a generation that frequently documents their life on social media and is forever under pressure for new clothes. The idea after all is to stand out without spending an unholy amount of money. Gen Z is thrifty above all. Fiscally practical, they will not want to pay full price for anything; what drives them is value. And the alternative to getting this at a low price is to invest in more expensive things with longer lives.

Whatever the choice, being broke is one thing zoomers cannot stand, and rightfully so, considering they would have been about 7 during the global financial downturn of 2008. Their spending habits were likely passed down by their parents and teachers, who were themselves shaped by the recession.

Speaking value, brands are quite obviously beginning to work extra hard to earn the zoomer’s trust. Transparency and authenticity are important to the zoomers, more than ever before and more than to anyone else.  The questions out there are: Does your brand have an unlimited returns policy on unworn items? Do you offer a repair service for worn clothing? Are you a tiny store that not many come to? Do you allow consumers to rent up to three items at any given time for a monthly fee? Are you able to be real and laugh at yourself? Are you using memes to market your offerings?

This is a highly informed cohort we are talking about. They will want to take charge of their lives and their futures. They have grown up around enough threats and uncertainty to leave the locus of control any place else. We are all moving into the unfamiliar territory of no-photo-retouching, undoctored images, real models. And there is still no guarantee however that the zoomers will stick around even after a brand has aligned with their values of inclusivity, diversity, and youth empowerment. If you are slow to engage or you break your promise, the zoomers will zip past in less than the blink of an eye.

Those times of being defined by your brands are long gone. The zoomers are creating their own personal brands. A brand today is something that is perceived and marketed by the influencer who wears it. I recently attended a webinar on “The importance of early styling to enhance your child’s individuality”. My initial reaction was of alarm at what I read as an added pressure on the zoomers but it is beginning to make sense now. After all, the zoomers do live lives in pictures and do value standing apart.

So how does this most photographed generation strike a balance between their sustainability goals and their need for newness? The answer brings us back to the ideas of rental, resale and thrift. Slow fashion as against fast fashion that contributes to criminal waste. Thoughtful shopping makes it possible for zoomers to flip their wardrobe without hurting the environment.

Here is a generation that lives in the cloud, uses thrift to create their own story and accepts diversity like no other group in the past. When you are so focused on including every shade, how could you yourself not stand out?