The cake was cut (one vegan and one traditional), the presents unwrapped, and the 30 women attending the baby shower had segregated into their generational and cultural subgroups. Thirty women laughing and talking where a half-an-hour before, it was polite crickets as we tried to interact with each other during the party games.
My brain was filled with marketing statistics, generational studies, and boomer jokes that my Gen Z daughter showed me that morning. I was in the perfect microcosm to watch in real-time how the generations consume products. I was the literal fly on the wall, and it fascinated me to no end. I could prove all the theories of generational buying habits just by reviewing the pile of presents and who they came from.
Boomers wrapped the presents in boxes because they got the big items needed for a new baby. Most of them had a story about how raising babies is easy and what the salesperson said about the item they purchased. They brought the meatballs, spinach salad, and pinwheel sandwiches to the shower.
Gen-Z had gift bags filled with the staples of what is needed, useful and effective for when the baby comes home. They talked about where to get the best deal online for the highest-rated products to save the mom precious shopping time. Each one threw in at least one nostalgic book or toy from their childhood. They brought the cheese and crackers, fruit trays, Costco cake, and drinks to the party.
Millennials brought the organic, bamboo, environmental items in reusable baskets and boxes. They talked about how each item was ethically sourced and its impact upon the baby’s health. They also brought the vegan offerings; cake, moussaka, vegetable curry, and cashew butter.
Gen-Z were few to attend, but they brought the up-cycled, re-purposed and hand painted items. They didn’t bring food, but did a lot of the setup and clean up. There was nothing drastically different or discordant among the generations, just a culmination of different life experiences and influences. These differing needs, generation to generation, showed me that in the end we all want the same thing – to feel connected, appreciated, empowered and comfortable in our own skin. To me this begs the question, why are the generations at odds with each other if we all want the same thing? The answer is because the way we find our comfort can be worlds apart.
If, as retailers, we can recognize what each generation is telling us what they need, we can reach more buyers in a way that is comfortable to them. We can appreciate the younger shopper and turn them into an influencer. We can honor the needs of the order generation and still be cutting edge. We can build community right where we are and not have to feel threatened by the light speed that markets and technology are changing.
DISRUPTION IN THE MARKET
I am now officially the trend watcher at our store. It is a good 25 percent of my job to take notice of what is going on in the many markets we are in. What is selling, what is changing and most importantly, what is disrupting. These big shakeups can change markets in unrecognizable ways in less than a year. Think about the video store rentals when Netflix disrupted their market. Uber and Airbnb are more disruptors changing the way we live. If you look at each major disruption, it was a product of the incoming generation. Gen-Xers brought the new technology and need for convenience through e-commerce. Millennials took down even more barriers to controlling our own world with the sharing commerce of Uber and Airbnb. I am watching and strategizing how to manage the next disruption I see coming right now from the Gen-Z crowd – recommerce.
Recommerce, also known as reverse commerce, is a term coined by George Colony in a 2005 New York Times interview. Colony is the chief executive of Forrester Research who described recommerce as the business models centered on the purchase and resale of used goods by companies. This initial model was focused on the sale of outdated tech from first-world countries to emerging nations. But, recommerce is much more than that. It’s really the baby of e-commerce and sharing commerce! This is where the informal industry of flea markets, secondhand shops and garage sales met up with the power of the mobile phone to make buying used merchandise easy and immediate. The disruption started with eBay when it came onto the scene, yet in 2020, recommerce is much bigger than what eBay ever thought it could be.
Today’s recommerce also contains the ideals of environmental sustainability, influence marketing and the freedom to create additional income. Millennials and Gen-Z buyers are growing this market to an expected $51 billion by 2023 and the rest of the generations are jumping into the trend. Sites like Poshmark, ThreadUp, The RealReal, Grailed, Depop, Tradesy along with many other sites are shaking up the game that eBay and Amazon started. Yes, Amazon! Don’t forget that they are still the largest clearing house of used books. What these new companies are doing is making it easier for the consumer to sell items and it is giving them thousands of new items daily and even hourly to pick from.
Being sustainably conscious is not just about bamboo clothing and organic cottons. The two younger generations are demanding more than disposable fashion that ends up in the landfill. This is not just a need to be frugal with your fashion, Millennials and Gen-Z are concerned about the impact of fast fashion on global sustainability. From how it is made to how it is recycled is all on their radar.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a U.K. charity that promotes a circular economy and is a leader in recommerce thinking, states that an equivalent of a garbage truck of textiles is sent to a landfill or incinerated every second. After oil, fashion is the most polluting industry.
According to ThreadUp, fashion will drain a quarter of the world’s carbon budget by 2050. Do you know 26 billion pounds of textiles are dumped into global landfill each year? A single T-shirt takes 700 gallons of water to produce. ThreadUp has even created a movement called #chooseused to bring awareness to this environmental impact. This environmental values-based need for Millennials is so strong that new leadership in companies like Eileen Fisher, Patagonia, and REI have started their own used or returned goods online resale shops. They realized that people will resell their brand to each other whether they want them to or not. By creating their own online resale shops, they have some control of the quality that gets recommerced. Along with these big brands, more local-based resale shops specialize in fixing, refreshing and even upcycling clothes into new items. Renewalworkshop.com is one that is big hit locally and nationally, for instance. This is something that can easily be a second income and drive local economy in a new way.
CREATING NEW CASH FLOW
LetGo, OfferUp, Gone and Facebook Marketplace are re-commerce apps that let you list what you want to clear out of your life in a snap. Some smart home based entrepreneurs are turning those services into positive cash flow. From fashion to lawnmowers, we are all being more frugal and environmentally conscious while profiting on a quick side hustle.
I watch my 22-year-old and her friends trade clothes and sell what they don’t need in the easiest way possible. One of her enterprising friends scours Goodwill, Value World, and Salvation Army stores for items she knows will sell on Poshmark. Need a new camera? Source your closet and shelves for items you are no longer wearing or using. Need more cash on a weekly basis? Take your Saturdays and look for finds at flea markets or garage sales to sell online. Even the Boomers are taking advantage of this when they downsize or when their parents pass. There is a new wave of vintage dishes, curios, coats, and furniture hitting the recommerce market. This seems to be a solution that is spanning the generations.
When I tried to sell what was downsized from my parents’ home on eBay, it was a flop until I started using tips and tricks to market this to the millions of people on the site. I had to get noticed and it was a marketing strategy. Just like eBay and Etsy, you have to work your recommerce app to get noticed. Not everything sells and when it sells, it will be at the price the buyer is willing to pay. One person’s trash is often another person’s treasure, just make sure it’s the like new, vintage and/or well cared for stuff.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOUR STORE
You are running a business you love and have a vision and passion for and if recommerce does not fit into that vision, you don’t need to do anything about this new trend. Recommerce will be interesting to watch, take part in and learn from. I do, however, see how the generational buying habits are making recommerce popular and this is giving me clues about how to improve my marketing and product offerings. Recommerce hits so many markers for each generations’ needs and that I must take note of. So, how does my business recognize those needs and bring comfort to them?
Boomers – I am going to ensure that my customer service is topnotch and that we create a relaxing and rewarding personal experience.
Gen X – I am going to make sure my website is easy to use and shows the value of my products. They respond to clear marketing messages that help resolve the pain of the day.
Millennials – I know they read the reviews first and I will make sure I have influence marketing in place to give them confidence in my brand. My website must be optimized for mobile devices and have a way to reward brand loyalty.
Gen Z – I know that my brand is authenticated by the community and rewarded when I am socially and environmentally conscious. Social media and influence marketing is the way they find me and in turn, when loyal, they will promote me to the masses themselves. I must give them value and even a return on investment when they buy my products.
In the end, my business goal is to ensure all my customer feel connected, appreciated, empowered and comfortable with my products no matter how they came about them.